Thursday, May 16, 2002

Cape schools wait for word from council

Published in the Current

Cape schools may face a further $100,000 in cuts, including the loss of a fifth-grade teaching position and the volunteer coordinator position.

Or the situation may stay as it is, depending on the Town Council’s decision on the school budget.

The School Board has put its budget review on hold pending a reply from the Town Council addressing two issues: whether the $161,000 in cuts the board already has proposed will be enough to satisfy the council, and whether the board will be allowed to use $70,000 in surplus revenue as part of those cuts. The council had asked for $191,557 in cuts.

“The problem is that we have not had a response,” said School Board member and school Finance Committee Chairman Kevin Sweeney.

The board is hoping for an answer from the Town Council by May 21, when it will have a workshop session.

The council will vote on the budget May 28, following a public hearing.

If the council requires additional cuts, and denies the use of surplus revenue, the district could face a further $100,000 in budget reductions, including staff, who are contractually entitled to a 90-day notice of termination.

“Already on the block are programs, staff and more contributions from parents. That’s just the beginning,” said board Chairman George Entwistle.

And despite the councilors’ admissions that their role is not to decide on specific line items in the school budget, Entwistle said, “they actually do have in mind very specific items.”

The high school freezer has been one item of concern, with councilors debating the board’s contention that it needs to be replaced.

Sweeney inspected the freezer and found that its leak poses an imminent safety risk and needs to be remedied immediately. School officials may use a rubber mat like those around the town pool to prevent people from slipping on the water on the floor.

Sweeney proposed one way to handle the budget crisis. “The fiscal year is not over. The books are not closed,” he said. He noted that the surplus is just a projected figure at present.

“What if we decide that surplus is not going to exist at the end of this year?” he asked, proposing that the schools spend all available money.

Business manager Pauline Aportria explained that those projections help next year’s budget, rather than hurting it, and that spending the surplus would make things worse, not better.

Superintendent Tom Forcella has already frozen large expenditures this year, hoping to expand the surplus going forward.

“We’re already not getting things we’d anticipated getting this year, ” said board member Jennifer DeSena.

The board’s regular monthly meeting followed the Finance Committee meeting. At the regular session, the board approved new athletic policies tougher on drug and alcohol use, and increased restrictions on fund-raising by boosters.

In other business, the board:
– Commended Stephanie Reed and Daniel Gayer for their performance on the U.S. Physics Olympics exam, as two of 188 finalists nationwide.
– Heard a report from Pond Cove School principal-for-the-day, Jonathan Bass, a fourth-grader, about his experiences as principal, visiting classes and making rules such as increased recess and permission for students to chew bubble gum.
– Heard a report from high school Principal Jeff Shedd that incoming high school freshmen will have a day of orientation at the school in the fall, rather than the traditional spring “step-up day.” Shedd also reported on senior prank day, which included a release of mice in the cafeteria and the installation of a radio transmitter inside the public address system.
– Approved a Fulbright Teacher Exchange for next year, in which high school English teacher Hannah Jones will teach in a school in Ayrshire, Scotland, and a teacher from that school will come to Cape Elizabeth.
– Approved continuing contracts for all eligible teachers; approved second year probationary contracts for all eligible teachers except Sarah Gridley, who is resigning at the end of the year; approved an unpaid leave of absence and a third-grade job-sharing program; and hired a new guidance counselor for Pond Cove School.
– Commended several high school economics students for their efforts to raise money for Camp Sunshine, a camp on Sebago Lake for families of children with serious diseases.
– Heard a report from high school Spanish teacher Mark Pendarvis and two of his students about their trip to Costa Rica.
– Heard a report from high school economics teacher Ted Jordan about the trip he and his class took to the New York Stock Exchange.