Thursday, September 26, 2002

Cape’s enrollment going up despite prediction

Published in the Current

When they started planning for an expansion and renovation to the high school, Cape Elizabeth school officials wanted to know what school enrollments would look like 10 years out.

In October 2000, South Portland-based Planning Decisions issued a draft report to the schools indicating that the district’s student body would decline slightly overall from 2001 to 2011. That decline is not happening yet, according to school enrollment numbers. Instead, student numbers are climbing slightly, to a point where, two years from the date the study was conducted, there are 64 more students than predicted.

Rebecca Wandell, a project analyst at Planning Decisions, said the study was based on historical trends in Cape Elizabeth and did not take into account variations in those trends, or new construction beyond previous annual averages.

The study included two sets of estimates, one called “best fit,” which was based solely on historical data, and one set called “high,” assuming 30 new single family homes would be built each year, and that those new homes would result in 12 new students each year.

The “best fit” model projected that there would be 1,734 students in the school system in 2001-2002, dropping to 1,717 students for 2002-2003. The “high” model predicted 1,757 in 2001-2002 and 1,752 in 2002-2003. Both indicated slowly declining school populations through 2010-2011.

The actual data shows there were 1,759 students in 2001-2002, rising to 1,781 this school year, 64 students more than the “best fit” projected and 29 more than the “high” model.

“We are either at the high end in most cases, or in some cases exceeding the high end” of the projections, said Superintendent Tom Forcella.

That difference has meant there is no reliable enrollment model for school officials to use when planning new facilities and deciding how much room to set aside for uses as wide-ranging as cafeteria tables and parking, much less classroom space.

The projected downward trend in student numbers has not begun and is not even on the horizon yet, Forcella said. The best he can do is use the “high” model numbers and make guesses beyond that.

He is not sure why the differences have occurred, but has a theory. It has long been the case in Cape that some students will attend private all-day kindergartens rather than the half-day kindergarten offered by the schools.

The estimates have projected that those students will enroll in the town’s first grade. Forcella said this is not necessarily happening.

Instead, some of the private kindergartens have added first-grade classes. Parents choose to keep their kids in the private school for a year, before enrolling them in the town schools as they enter second grade.

The estimates do not take that delayed enrollment into account.

Forcella said it has happened in the past couple of years, resulting in a larger-than-expected second grade class.

Actual enrollment numbers depart from the projections from elementary through middle school, though they get closer together in high school.

“We don’t really know why,” Forcella said.

Wandell has some ideas. She admits Forcella could be right. She also said some of the study’s assumptions could be wrong: More new homes might have been built than were included in the model, and more children might be in each home than the model assumed.

In 2001, there were 34 new single family homes built, followed by 31 new homes so far in 2002, more homes than the model assumed.

As for children in the home, the birth rate is stable in Cape, Wandell said, though it was slightly higher in 2001, with 82 babies born to parents in the town. She said that would tend to indicate more families are moving in.

But she defended the accuracy of the survey, which differs from the actual numbers by less than 3 percent in most of the figures. “Statistically, we’re not off by a significant amount,” Wandell said.

She admitted that looking at the numbers from a standpoint of statistical validity is different from trying to use the numbers to predict class size and make projections for numbers of classrooms and teachers in the future.

Going forward, she said, the schools could update the study or begin to build their own estimates by surveying buyers of homes in town about the number of children they have and their ages.

Middle school students learn about life in the outdoors

Published in the Current

The outdoor education theme running through the four Cape Elizabeth Middle School grades will begin this week with the eighth graders’ participation in the statewide Coastal Cleanup.

The students will work in several areas around town, including Alewife, Boathouse, Broad, Johnson, Maiden, Peabbles, Pond and Staples coves, and Cliff House Beach.

“What we try to do in the eighth grade is give something back to the community,” said eighth grade teacher team leader, Mary Murphy.

The students also work with people of all ages around town, raking leaves from the lawns of senior citizens in a program organized by the police department, and doing trail maintenance and construction for the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, under the supervision of high school seniors.

In each activity, students learn about the natural environment and about aspects of the community they might not otherwise experience.

The final year builds on lessons learned during the previous three years at the middle school.

The program starts in fifth grade, where it is closely tied to the science curriculum. Teachers focus on “getting kids outside the classroom,” said fifth grade team leader, Cheryl Higgins.

Students take three field trips, including one to Kettle Cove in the fall to look at tidal pools and marine life. That excursion is scheduled for the end of September or the beginning of October, depending on weather.

In the spring, fifth-graders head to Fort Williams with their compasses to take on a 10-station orienteering course, using map and compass skills learned in the classroom. And in late spring, they head off to Two Lights to look at flora and fauna and do plant identification in the field.

Students also learn to work together, facing challenges and assignments in small groups. That leads to the sixth-grade experience, which was the original element in the program.

For 13 or 14 years, sixth-graders have gone to Camp Chewonki in Wiscasset for an outdoor living program, in which they learn camping skills and are responsible for pitching their own tents, cooking, chopping wood and cleaning.

Students learn to work together and form new relationships with classmates. They are assigned to groups of 10 or 12, and are separated from groups of friends. This allows them to learn and grow outside of their typical social groups, said team leader, Gary Record.

Chewonki’s lessons include group and individual challenges.

The trip isn’t until May, but sessions each Friday in sixth grade classrooms present group activities similar to Chewonki’s, to get students ready.

Last year’s class was so large it was split into two groups to attend on two different weeks. This year’s class is “almost as large,” Record said, but will go all at once.

Seventh-graders will head to Camp Kieve in Nobleboro, to attend the Leadership Development Institute, a week-long program in which students work closely with members of their advisory groups.

They learn decision-making, relationship skills and self-confidence in challenge-by-choice activities such as ropes courses. There is also time for self-examination and solo reflection during the five-day program, said seventh grade team leader, Matt Whaley.

“It’s a great place,” Whaley said.

This year, students will go to Kieve from Oct. 7 to 11 rather than the end of November, when previous classes have attended. A cancellation from another school allowed Cape to change to that week, which is expected to be warmer and more comfortable for outdoor activities.

In seventh grade, as in all the grades, teachers revisit lessons learned in previous experiences and earlier in the school year. When they go to Kieve, Chewonki, or even just to Fort Williams, “we try to bring it back afterwards,” Whaley said.

Cape considers extending kindergarten day

Published in the Current

Surprising even themselves, several parents were persuaded to look more closely at extending the kindergarten class day during a Cape Elizabeth School Board workshop Tuesday. But several board members were concerned about how to quantify the value of such a change, to be able to justify the added expense.

“We’ve been discussing this issue for five years,” said School Board Chairman Marie Prager.

This latest discussion came as the school building committee looked for advice from the public on the size of a proposed addition to Pond Cove School.

A two-story addition, estimated to cost $2.5 million, could house all-day or extended-day kindergarten classes in the future. At a reduced cost, around $1.7 million, a one-story addition would provide space only for a relocation of the current kindergarten space from its home at the high school, freeing up room there to increase teaching space.

Prager made clear that the board was not trying to decide on the specifics of a longer kindergarten day, or whether it would be implemented at all.

Rather, she said, it was about whether it was a good idea to keep the option available, or to rule it out.

The meeting began with an hour of background information, primarily in support of a longer kindergarten day, from School Board members, Superintendent Tom Forcella, and kindergarten and first-grade teachers.

Prior board research, including reference to studies of the impact of longer kindergarten days, indicated that “the value of the program was worthy of consideration,” according to Elaine Moloney, a board member and chair of the most recent committee to study the issue. “The problem was the space,” Moloney said.

There was no room in Cape Elizabeth’s schools for the additional kindergarten classrooms that would be required to serve the same number of students for longer hours.

Information from other school districts, presented by Forcella and several teachers, indicated that there were academic and social benefits to a longer kindergarten day.

Teachers also cited the advantage of additional time for socialization and less pressure on students and teachers to cover large amounts of material in what is now a two-and-a-half-hour session each day.

The evidence and depth of research impressed parents.

One mother told the board she had come into the meeting opposed to the idea of anything other than half-day kindergarten. “I totally changed my mind,” she said.

Other parents said they remained worried about students’ ability to handle a full-day kindergarten, but were interested in making the kindergarten day longer than it is now.

Debbie Cushing, a parent of middle school students, said she felt building the additional space was a good idea, and the incremental expense was “a small cost to pay for a huge range of options.” Even if all-day kindergarten never came to pass in Cape, she said, “that space will be used for something.”

Suzanne Martin-Pillsbury, a parent of young children, said she feels the present kindergarten experience was good, but rushed. She said it would be smart to have “space enough to have options.”

Another mother, who was a teacher in South Portland when they started all-day kindergarten, said she is unsure about the program.

“Your child’s gone quicker that way,” she said. But she said it would be “shortsighted” not to build space for expansion.

Another mother said readiness for all-day school at age 5 depends on the family and the child, but it could be a good option. She suggested all-day class be an option for parents to choose. She worried, though, that parents who did not choose a longer school day for their kindergarteners would be concerned about the student “getting behind” classmates in learning and social progress.

Nancy Jordan, mother of a current kindergarten student and two younger children, said she knows there is a lot of material packed into the short kindergarten day, but proposed another way to ease pressure on teachers and students. “What about lightening up the curriculum?” she asked.

Pond Cove School Principal To m Eismeier responded, saying he and the kindergarten teachers talk frequently about “reasonable goals” for kindergarten classroom education.

Board members were in favor of building the expanded space, but several – Susan Steinman, George Entwistle and Kevin Sweeney – were concerned about justifying the expense of a longer kindergarten day to a money conscious Town Council and voting public.

Steinman wanted additional data on how students who had attended an all-day kindergarten would fare, and whether that experience would reduce behavior problems or other social problems in the primary grades.

“If there’s an expense, there needs to be demonstrated gains,” Entwistle said.

Sweeney said he was “unconvinced” of the value of an all-day kindergarten, but supported building space that allowed room to grow, whether in the form of more kindergarten or other educational areas.

After the meeting, Lisa Silverman-Gent, a Cape parent, said she was relieved to learn that the board was not making a decision on the form of a longer-day kindergarten, but was instead just deciding on building space to have options.

The next step will be a formal recommendation from the School Board to its building committee Oct. 8, allowing the building committee to proceed on schedule, Prager said. The next School Board workshop will be Oct. 22, at 7 p.m., in the high school library, for a discussion of high school and middle school programming issues.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Bobcats and bears, oh my

Published in the Current

A bear was spotted on Ash Swamp Road in Scarborough last week and a bobcat is apparently prowling around Cape.

In the wee hours of the morning of Sept. 11, a sharp-eyed Ash Swamp Road resident spotted the bear. She had noticed that something had been taking food from her backyard bird feeders.

The resident told Animal Control Officer Chris Creps that an animal had been raiding the feeders for about two weeks before she caught a glimpse of it in a motion-detector spotlight in the middle of the night. The bear wandered back into the woods after the light came on, Creps said.

He said bears in the northern area of town are not common, but “it’s not unusual,” he said. There were some sightings last year and possibly one earlier this year, he said.

The bear is not the only large animal in the area. A bobcat has been sighted in several areas around Cape Elizabeth.

Animal Control Officer Bob Leeman thinks there is only one animal, a large male that he has seen behind the town transfer station where Leeman buries dead animals found in town, including road-kill deer.

One small deer Leeman buried recently was dug up and dragged off into the woods and “completely consumed,” he said. The bobcat has stuck mainly to wooded areas, but has made an appearance behind at least one residence, that of Police Dispatcher Greg Tinsman.

Tinsman said he has recently built a path into the woods behind his home, and one day saw the bobcat standing on the new path, apparently seeing where it went. It went on its way after a short time, but was a surprise for him.

Bobcats, like bears, should not be approached or harassed. Instead, they should be left alone to leave when they decide to.

Getting rid of old computers gets easier

Published in the Current

Until recently, there was no way for businesses and schools in Southern Maine to get rid of old computers. A new program through Ruth’s Reusable Resources in Scarborough is solving that problem. For a fee, Ruth’s will store old computers and arrange for their proper disposal after the end of their useful lives.

Gary Lanoie, technology coordinator for Cape Elizabeth schools, said he has been storing old computers in closets for years. Computers that are beyond repair or are so old as to no longer be useful in classrooms now occupy “one big storage closet per school,” Lanoie said.

Because of heavy metals used in computer parts, they are considered hazardous materials and cannot be thrown out with regular garbage.

“We can’t just be throwing this stuff in landfills,” Lanoie said. With the new program through Ruth’s though, “we are starting to get rid of them.”

Ruth’s is a non-profit clearinghouse known for giving donated items, which can be used in the classroom, to area schools. School districts pay a fee to belong, and, in return, their staff can visit and pick up items they need, ranging from three-hole binders to reams of paper.

In a role reversal, of sorts, now schools and businesses can pay Ruth’s to get rid of what they don’t want, recycling the oldest computers in an environmentally safe way.

A recycling company in the Midwest will pick up large loads of computers, but won’t pick up anything less than an 18-wheeler full of old equipment. That is a lot for a business or school district to generate alone.

Becoming the middleman
Ruth’s has stepped in to play the role of consolidator. Project coordinator Chris Slader, an alternative learning teacher for primary grades in Westbrook, volunteers his time to handle computer donations.

Slader will accept working computers with processor speeds faster than 200 megahertz at no charge, as they can still be useful to schools.

Central Maine Power has donated a number of 400 megahertz machines that could last four or five years in a school. Those are available at no charge to employees of school districts that are members of Ruth’s network.

“It works out better for us,” said CMP community relations specialist John Carroll. Previously, the company donated computers on an individual basis to various non-profits.

That was labor-intensive, Carroll said, and didn’t always result in the agencies getting the best computers for their purposes.

The arrangement with Ruth’s, Carroll said, is more efficient and assures CMP that its computers are being used until the end of their usable lives.

Old computers, though, cost money on their way out the door. Ruth’s charges $15 for a monitor, $3 for a central processing unit (including the hard drive and CD drive), $7 for a printer and $2 for a keyboard or mouse. The money pays for the fees for the recycling company to pick up the equipment, as well as the rental of a storage trailer outside the Ruth’s space at the Bessey School. There is also a small surcharge Ruth’s uses to pay for disposal of old computers that Ruth’s already has on hand and needs to get rid of, Slader said.

When computers come in, Slader sorts them and puts the old ones in the trailer. In his spare time, he will stack them on shipping pallets and wrap them with clear plastic film.

When the trailer is full, he will call to have it taken away.

They are taken to a furnace, he said, where the parts are melted down and reused. Slader said the equipment is not incinerated but is recycled.

Clearing the decks
There are other ways to get rid of computers, but none of them are as certain to be environmentally sound.

Capt. Mark Unruh of the Salvation Army in Portland said he receives donations of computers regularly. Working ones are sold in the organization’s stores for $25 to $50. When he gets a large number of non-working computers, Unruh puts them in a large box and sells the whole box for about $25 in the store on Warren Avenue in Portland.

That way, he said, he gets rid of the old computers as well as the newer ones. He said he has no way of knowing what happens to the computers after they leave his store.

Scarborough’s technology coordinator, Stephen Tewhey, said the district gives many of its oldest computers to non-profits and day care centers in town. They have also used state programs and private recyclers to handle defunct computers.

Tewhey said the town’s yard sale last year was a good way to get rid of equipment the schools did not need any more. He expects to use the program at Ruth’s as well.

In Cape, the money spent so far on recycling some equipment came out of other budget savings, Lanoie said. But he expects to ask for recycling money in the next budget cycle.

“It’s probably going to be a standard budget item,” Lanoie said.

He said laptops issued to students through the state’s laptop initiative belong to the state. If they break or need to be disposed of, he would send them to the state or to Apple, meaning the town would not have to pay to dispose of those machines.

Slader said the recycling program may expand to individuals in the near future. Businesses should call Ruth’s at 883-8407 to make an appointment to drop off old computers.

Cape is media mecca

Published in the Current

For a quiet town that sometimes thinks it has little news, Cape Elizabeth has more than its fair share of news professionals in residence.

Anchors of Portland television stations, several top editors at the Portland Press Herald, including editor Jeannine Guttman and managing editor Eric Conrad, and even regular reporters live scattered throughout the town. They say they like the peace and quiet as well as its proximity to work and the bustle of Portland.

Guttman and Conrad did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment for this story. But one of their colleagues was willing to talk. John Richardson, a reporter for the Portland Press Herald, has lived in Cape since 1994. He has two children, 11 and 9, and he likes the environment they have. “It’s a great place for them to grow up,” he said.

The family previously lived in York County, but it was a longer commute and more isolated. “We like being near the ocean,” Richardson said, citing the town’s rural character as another strength.

“It’s a great community for families and kids,” Richardson said.

Bruce Glasier, a native of Portland, has lived in Cape since 1978. The sports anchor for WCSH 6, Glasier’s family started in the Two Lights neighborhood, then moved to Star Road and now live on a dirt road in a house with a view of the ocean. It is only one road over from where his wife, Marita Ray, grew up.

“I just love the community,” he said. His son went to Cape schools, which was different from Glasier’s childhood.

“I grew up as a city kid,” he said. But it’s different now that he has moved to the country. “I don’t have to go far to look at the ocean,” Glasier said.

Doug Cook, an evening anchor for WMTW, Channel 8, feels similarly. “I always liked the fact that it’s close to the water,” he said. Cook and his wife, Cape native Elisa Boxer, who is also his co-anchor, are building a house in Cross Hill.

They had looked in Falmouth, but hadn’t found a place that felt right to them. In Cape, though, they are close to work and family and in a town with strong schools.

“We found an unbeatable combination. It’s perfect,” Cook said. He and Boxer haven’t moved in yet, but are looking forward to doing so next year. “I think it’s going to be awesome,” Cook said.

He had to persuade Boxer to look at Cape. She grew up there, and like many small-town kids, wanted to “get out.”

“Growing up, I swore it was the one place I would never return to,” Boxer said. But now she is happy to make it her home.

“I think it’s such a great place, because you’re 10 or 15 minutes from Portland, and it really feels so rural and suburban,” Boxer said. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds,” she said.

Cindy Williams, an evening anchor for WCSH 6, and her husband Lee Nelson, one of the station’s morning anchors, also find a pleasant balance in Cape.

They have lived in town for six years. Before that they lived just down the street in South Portland, and loved the neighborhood. When they needed a new house, they didn’t look far.

The big farmhouse they now call home is in the same neighborhood, but is just across the line in Cape.

Being close to the beaches is a plus for Williams, as are the friendly people and quiet streets where she lives. The house is also close to work, a plus for Nelson, who gets up before the crack of dawn to be on the air by 6 a.m.

A lot of the folks they work with live in South Portland, but William s and Nelson have a head start to their favorite eating place: the Lobster Shack.

These news folks like to get away from the hectic pace of city life and come home to Cape. Boxer said the town has a good mix, and despite physical proximity has a totally different air than Portland or South Portland. She called the feeling “so close and yet so far. ”

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Lifeline busy with seal release

Published in the Current

The Marine Animal Lifeline released three seals on the morning of Sept. 5, including one, named Chance, that had been found with a gunshot wound in her head on Pine Point Beach July 2.

The release, in Cape Elizabeth’s Dyer Cove, was successful, with all three animals heading out to sea.

Two of the seals had lived in the wild for a long time, and headed quickly back to their natural habitat.

The third, rescued by the Lifeline when only a day old, took longer to get used to the surf and salt water, changes from its tank at the Lifeline’s rehabilitation center.

Immediately following the release, Lifeline President Greg Jakush and several volunteers drove to Hannaford Cove to check out a report of a dead turtle on the beach.

The turtle was located and was “very dead,” Jakush said. The Lifeline had been receiving reports of the dead turtle floating along the coast for a couple of weeks. The first sighting was in Damariscotta.

Also on the beach at Hannaford Cove was a dead adult seal, part of a recent surge in dead seal reports to the Lifeline. Jakush said the increase is natural and is not cause for alarm. He said recent high tides and odd currents are washing seal carcasses off ledges further out to sea, where they die of natural causes.

None of the seals so far, he said, were rescued and released by the Lifeline.

Jakush said he also received a report recently of a former Lifeline patient “frolicking and playing” in the Cape Cod Channel in Massachusetts.

“He made a heck of a j o u r n e y,” Jakush said.

People who find stranded or injured marine animals should call the Marine Animal Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline at 851-6625.

School renovation costs cut

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth school officials have been able to trim $1.6 million from the plans to renovate the high school, and say they are not yet finished.

Large questions remain about how classes will use space, and whether the changes need to be made all at once or can be made over time.

A meeting of several school department staff members, building committee members and project architect Bob Howe led cuts in the high school project from $9.2 million to $7.6 million, School Board and building committee Chairman Marie Prager told the board’s Finance Committee on Tuesday.

That brings the total, for renovations at the high school and additions to Pond Cove School, to $10.1 million, down from $11.7 million.

“We were able to shave down some of the dollars,” Prager told the Current in an interview. Specific details will not be available until a Sept. 26 meeting of the building committee, she said.

“We took out things that were obvious to all of us had to come out,” she said.

Among the cuts, Prager told the Finance Committee, were some site work and a $500,000 sprinkler system. Also reduced were costs to pave the rear parking lot at the school, now a gravel area. The original plan included relocating the road behind the school, but Prager said leaving the road where it is could save as much as $70,000.

Other savings may come in work that can be completed by the schools’ maintenance staff.

The cuts so far are preliminary and are subject to the decision of the entire building committee, Prager said.

The board will hold a workshop Sept. 24 on all-day or extended-day kindergarten, to decide if the addition to Pond Cove needs to be as extensive as it is planned. If all-day kindergarten happens in the next several years, said Superintendent Tom Forcella, “it would be foolish not to build space for it.”

Enrollment that continues to exceed even the high end of the district’s projections is also cause for concern. So is the timeline: The board would like to have the school bond available for a referendum on the town’s election day in May, if the Town Council sends the question to the voters.

Prager said the building committee may get to a point with the project
where they turn to Howe with a total dollar figure and ask, “what can we get for that?”

Board member Kevin Sweeney pointed out the importance of getting everything organized the first time, saying there would not be a second chance to get the project past the council or the public.

Board member Susan Steinman worried about the process being driven by the building project’s urgency, rather than educational priorities. “What population do we want to be serving, to what degree?” she asked.

Also undecided are the total cost and construction timeline. “Alot of things are up in the air,” Prager said.

Prager said she and board finance Chairman Elaine Moloney are laying the ground work for extended dealings with the Town Council this year.

“We realize that we’re all not going to always agree,” Prager said.

But she said it was important for the two bodies to keep in close contact, especially with money so tight. “We’re headed for difficult times,” she said.

Building committee meetings will now have minutes recorded. The minutes will be sent to members of the School Board and the Town Council, to keep everyone informed, Moloney said. She expects to give the council a budget update in December or January as well, she said.

Not all the board members are ready to go along with the plan of improving school-council relations.

Board member George Entwistle, who took a strong stand against council budget cuts during last year’s school budget process, warned Prager and Moloney against getting too close to the council.

“I am very cautious about inviting the fox into the henhouse,” he said. “There’s a fundamental difference of mission.”

At the School Board’s regular business meeting, which followed the finance committee meeting, the board heard from:
– Superintendent Tom Forcella that several groups of school staff were recognized on the first day of school for their hard work and dedication. They included the seventh grade teaching team for their work with the laptop program, the entire staff of Pond Cove school for its literacy accomplishments, the maintenance department for helping save money in energy and maintenance costs, and the high school science department for organizing the new high school science curriculum.
– Pond Cove Principal Tom Eismeier that while first-grade teacher Kelly Hasson was not selected as the Maine Teacher of the Year, “we still think Kelly Hasson would be our teacher of the year. ”
– Seventh-grade teacher Beverly Bisbee about the first few days of work with the laptops, accompanied by a digital photo slide-show to the music of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

The School Board will hold a workshop meeting on the subject of all-day and extended-day kindergarten, at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 24, in the high school library. The board’s next regular business meeting will be Oct. 8, at 7:30 p.m., in the Town Council chambers.

Chief wants more pay for firefighters

Published in the Current

Scarborough Fire Chief Michael Thurlow last week laid out his plan to increase firefighters’ pay, improve coverage throughout the town and reorganize some of the department’s administrative and training duties.

It is a sweeping plan, which could cost thousands of dollars a year in additional salary and benefits, but Thurlow told the Town Council at its Sept. 4 workshop the town needs it.

Further, he said, it is far cheaper than the alternative: a fire service staffed entirely by full-time firefighters.

“It is inevitable that this community will grow to the extent that we need a full-time department, at some point,” Thurlow said. But in the meantime, there are some changes the Town Council can implement to keep the town’s fire protection level up while still keeping costs at a reasonable level.

Thurlow asked councilors to phase in firefighters’ pay increases for advanced fire and rescue training, pay firefighters for the hours they spend in training and pay increments for people who stay in the department over the long term. Also part of his plan is for additional full-time administrative and regulatory staff to handle the department’s paperwork, supervisory tasks and fire prevention responsibilities.

All firefighters now get paid $10 per hour, a rate Thurlow wants to use as the base rate for basic firefighters.

Thurlow asked the council to increase pay rates 50 cents per hour for each fire training level a firefighter attains, starting Jan. 1.

That could cost as much as $98,000 a year, Thurlow said, though there is no money in this budget for such an expense.

Rather, savings would need to be found in other areas of town spending, according to Town Manager Ron Owens.

Paying firefighters more would help the town retain its fire crews, Thurlow
said. The more on-call firefighters the town has, the longer it can last without a full-time fire service, Thurlow said.

He said the expense of increasing firefighters’ pay pales in comparison to what it would cost to pay full-time firefighters for similar service. “It is a much cheaper alternative to full-time staffing,” he said.

To further streamline department operations, Thurlow wants to add a full-time training coordinator to handle the 8,000 man-hours of training the department conducts each year, a full-time administrative assistant for the
rescue department and a fire prevention officer.

He also wants to add two daytime firefighters, who staff the town’s fire stations from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day, to ensure a faster response to fires. In addition to fire coverage, they can be used as shift supervisors.

The fire prevention officer, Thurlow said, could be partially paid for by fees the department now charges developers for reviewing fire safety plans.

That officer would also do fire safety inspections for businesses and visit the town’s schools, especially during October’s Fire Prevention Week, Thurlow said.

He went on to lay the groundwork for a future request for additional full-time staff, saying there may be a need for full-time emergency medical technicians at the stations, to supplement the paramedics now there. Further, he said, there may also be a need to increase firefighter coverage during the evening commute time. Presently, daytime firefighters leave work at 4:30 p.m., handing off coverage to on-call firefighters.

Bad traffic at the Route 22 intersection with Route 114 can keep firefighters from getting to the station quickly, to respond to fires in time, he said.

Thurlow said he expects to need to phase in these changes, to reduce impact on the budget, but said the changes need to happen quickly. “I’m hoping that we can accomplish a lot of it within the next three years,” he said.

Councilor and Finance Committee Chairman Patrick O’Reilly encouraged Thurlow to look at cooperation with neighboring towns for training purposes and staffing. The town has such an agreement with Gorham, in which one Gorham firefighter and fire truck are based at the North Scarborough fire station, which provides fire protection in North Scarborough and South Gorham.

Council Chairman Jeff Messer said he would support a 10 percent annual increase for the fire and rescue budget, with some of that money increasing pay and the rest of it used for additional full-time staff.

Town Manager Ron Owens cautioned Messer not to commit himself before reviewing the needs of the rest of the town’s departments.

O’Reilly said he wanted to know the numbers of people at each training level and longevity step. Thurlow said he would bring that to a follow-up meeting, to happen in October.

A father’s heartbreak on sending his son into battle

Published in the Current

Patriotism is a less certain thing for Kevin Sweeney now. Since Sept. 11, 2001, he has been engaged in internal conflict between what he sees in the world and what it means for his son, Brendan.

Brendan is a specialist in the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. His unit is one of the first to head into harm’s way.

Sweeney, a New York native who received the coveted “New Yorker for New York” award in 1986, grew up, so he said, “watching the Twin Towers go up.” He lived in a working-class neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens and spent most of his life in the city, working to better his block and his neighborhood.

An Army veteran, who is not shy about expressing his pride in his son, Sweeney wonders and worries about the world his son – and all 20-year-olds – are living in.

Brendan called last Sept. 11 to say he and his fellow soldiers were in their combat gear, getting set to move. They didn’t go anywhere that day, but have been prepared to depart at a moment’s notice for a year.

“There is no sense of security in what Brendan will be doing from day to day,” Sweeney said.

There is a sense of relief when Brendan or his wife calls to say other units have been deployed, because it means at least six months before another unit
rotates overseas to replace it.

But, Sweeney said, with “war drums” beating like they are, it might not be six months, and could be far less.

Brendan is now slated to head to Germany in January for two weeks, and then on to a location officially undisclosed, but more than likely Afghanistan or Iraq, Sweeney said.

“It’s almost a relief to know he’s going in January,” Sweeney said. At least there’s a date to dread, though he knows departure could happen tomorrow.

Sweeney takes some comfort in knowing that he will get a call to say Brendan has gone overseas, because Brendan’s wife will let the family know. Other soldiers, ordered to pack up and get on airplanes double-quick, may not get a chance to let their families know they are leaving until much later, if at all.

It is not what Sweeney envisioned when Brendan graduated from Cape Elizabeth High School two years ago. At that time, Brendan had little interest in college and no concrete plans. Sweeney encouraged him to join the Army, knowing Brendan was interested in law enforcement and needed some training.

Back then, long before Sept. 11, Sweeney said he saw the Army as a way to get young men like Brendan shaped up, with opportunities for future educational scholarships, chances to get paid for training, and even management and supervisory roles.

Now that has changed. He thinks of Brendan, and all soldiers, differently.

“We have had to talk about things that no father should ever have to discuss with his son,” Sweeney said, his voice breaking. He has helped Brendan with a will and a power of attorney in case his son can’t act on his own behalf.

Some of the father-son time has been more sinister. “You shouldn’t have to go out with your son and buy personal sidearms,” Sweeney said. But that is what they did, when Brendan was home recently.

Sweeney, a self-described curmudgeon, is near tears when talking about Brendan. His depth of emotion springs from both pride and fear.

Proud to serve
“I’m damn proud of him,” Sweeney said. He expands that to the other “kids,” as he calls them, in Brendan’s unit and throughout the Army. “It makes you think,” he said, about all the families across the country, all worried about their own kids.

But he knows Brendan is special, one of the elite fighters the Army spends thousands to train and equip.

“Brendan is one of the few who is in combat arms,” Sweeney said. “They go in harm’s way just training.”

To show his support for his son, Sweeney flies an Airborne flag in front of his house, and wears Airborne jump wings – the symbol of a qualified Army paratrooper – on his lapel.

Sometimes, for variety, he substitutes a pin version of the 82nd Airborne division patch.

But Sweeney also harbors fears for Brendan.

During the Vietnam War, Sweeney said, “people took out their frustration on the individual service member. That bothers me a lot, and I don’t want that to happen again,” he said.

He worries about a lack of popular support for an attack on Iraq. President George W. Bush and his administration are talking about invading Iraq, though national opinion polls indicate the public is about roughly split on the issue.

Former national security advisers and a number of top generals don’t want to go to war either.

Sweeney recalled a statement by Gen. Anthony Zinni, a U.S. envoy to help negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians: “The people who seem to be most inclined to go to war are the ones who have never been there,” he said.

If Brendan – or any American soldier – dies in Iraq, Sweeney said he will want strong proof that Saddam Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction, as the Bush administration alleges. Sweeney vowed to hold the administration to account for any missteps.

“I want the United States to be aware of the implications,” Sweeney said.

Putting a face on war
He doesn’t challenge the government out of enmity for the U.S. Rather, it is the opposite. “If there’s anything I do that’s patriotic, it’s playing devil’s advocate and asking the questions,” Sweeney said.

He is scared that with John Ashcroft and others in the administration making policy changes to “improve security” by taking away civil rights, what the terrorists had hoped to achieve with their attacks, “they have, in fact, accomplished to some degree.”

He reminded Brendan that he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and he reminds himself of others who fought to defend American freedom, and what they believed in. Today’s leaders, he said, are different.

“There are people who think that in order to protect those same liberties, we have to take them away,” Sweeney said. But rather than give up his rights and follow along blindly, Sweeney has a simple question: “Why is it so important to go to war?”

He also wants people to understand the true cost of war.

There are about 400,000 soldiers out of nearly 300 million U.S. citizens. “Most people don’t know a real soldier,” Sweeney said. Those who serve in the armed forces are people, too. He wants the politicians to remember that. “These soldiers have moms, dads, brothers, sisters, wives and kids,” he said.

War is a big decision, and the distance between soldiers and Washington policymakers can be dangerous, he said.

“It’s easy to send somebody else’s kid,” Sweeney said. The solution? “Make them faces. They’re people, and for the most part they’re kids,” he said.

He said even the national media has gotten carried away, encouraging war and not questioning government officials enough. Sweeney said he recently wanted to call up the war-hawk TV talk show “Fox and Friends,” to say, “You’re talking about killing my son.”

He has worked to help Cape Elizabeth’s members of the armed forces stay in the minds of town residents, especially the children. Last year, classes in the middle school adopted service people, writing them letters and sending them reminders of home.

The activity is one way Sweeney can avoid being overcome by fear. In a phone conversation from North Carolina, Brendan once said he was scared. Sweeney reminded him that fear is normal.

“Courage is not an absence of fear, it’s perseverance in the presence of fear,” Sweeney told his son.

The father’s heartbreak is still palpable, though, as Sweeney begins to cry, thinking about the last time he saw Brendan.

“I can’t say goodbye to him without being in tears,” Sweeney said, “because I don’t know if I’m ever going to see him again.”

Thursday, September 5, 2002

Rabid animal attacks cats in Cape

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth police are warning residents to keep an eye on their pet cats, in the wake of three recent encounters between cats and rabid animals. Two of the incidents involved raccoons and the third was with a skunk, according to Animal Control Officer Bob Leeman.

The most recent encounter, on the night of Sept. 4, was on Ocean House Road between Mitchell Road and Spurwink Avenue. The cat in that encounter was put down because its rabies shots were not up-to-date, and because there were children and other pets in the home.

“I know I’ve got cats out there that aren’t up to date on shots,” Leeman said. “That’s scary. ”

He said cat owners who discover unexplained injuries on their animals should have them taken to the veterinarian for an examination. He said cats might not even show signs of a fight or animal bite, but could bring rabies into the house unnoticed. If humans are exposed to the virus and do not receive rapid treatment, the disease is fatal.

If an animal is suspected of having encountered a rabid animal, Leeman said, the vet will administer a rabies booster shot and the animal will be quarantined for 45 days to be sure it is rabies-free. Leeman said most quarantined animals are kept in their homes under closer supervision than normal.

Rabid animals wander around town, Leeman said, meaning there is no way to specify that one area of town is riskier than others. “It’s everywhere out here,” he said.

Another encounter was between a black cat and a raccoon in the Brentwood area. Both the raccoon and the cat ran off before being captured, Leeman said, so he is not sure what happened to the animals. He did contact residents in the area whom he knew had black cats, but failed to find the animal.

“It worries me because there are so many cats in town,” Leeman said.

New Cape deputy fire chief

Published in the Current

Mark Stults, a 10-year veteran of the Cape Fire Department and current captain of Engine 2, has been selected to fill a deputy fire chief position made vacant by the death of Jimmy Murray in June.

Murray’s official radio call sign, “Car Two,” will transfer to Deputy Fire Chief Peter Gleason, and Stults will pick up Gleason’s old call sign as “Car Three.” Fire Chief Philip McGouldrick is “Car One.”

Stults spent 11 years as a firefighter in Falmouth, where he also served as an engine company captain. He works full time for the Town of Scarborough as a firefighter-paramedic on duty with the ambulance at Dunstan Station, and will be able to keep his job there.

“I’m excited,” Stults said. “I’m very pleased to feel the energy that everyone has.”

He took office Sept. 1, so not a lot has happened yet, but he is working with McGouldrick and Gleason to keep things running smoothly at the fire department.

The biggest issue facing the department, he said, is pressure to keep enough on-call firefighters available, and reduce or eliminate the need for full-time paid firefighters.

Full-timers are more expensive than on-call crews, Stults said.

“We’ve got a great group of people on board now,” he said. He expects to continue to focus on keeping a strong pool of volunteers, including paying attention to young people in town who are interested in the fire service.

Most sex offenders still not registered

Published in the Current

Of the 3,300 sex offenders required to register with the state’s sex offender registry, only a couple hundred showed up by the Sept. 1 deadline, according to the state police. Officials are taking a wait-and-see approach pending a decision on further action.

“We were hoping for a far greater response to voluntary compliance,” said Maine State Police spokesman, Steve McCausland.

He understands why there is a problem. “The sex offender list is the last place most people want their names to appear,” he said. Some of the offenses took place as long ago as 10 years, he said, so people may “take their chances” and effectively make the police go looking for them.

Starting June 30, 1992, people convicted of gross sexual assault of minors were required by state law to register with state and local police.

In 1999 the legislature expanded the law to include a number of other offenses, ranging from unlawful sexual contact to non-parental kidnapping.

From that date forward, all people convicted of those offenses also had to register.

In September 2001, the state Legislature made the 1999 law retroactive to the original 1992 date. All offenders convicted of any of the crimes added in 1999, and who were convicted between 1992 and 1999, were required to register by Sept. 1.

The plan of action now is uncertain.

“We will now regroup and decide what our next steps are going to be,” McCausland said.

The State Bureau of Identification, which oversees the sex offender registry, has other tasks as well, he said, so officials will have to look at what else is required of that division before deciding how to handle the sex offender issue.

In the meantime, state police will wait for sex offenders to have background checks run on them, or have other contacts with law enforcement.

When sex offenders who should have registered do encounter police, McCausland said, they may be subject to “enforcement action” based on their failure to register.

Criminal background checks, he said, are common in many fields as pre-employment checks, including most jobs dealing with children, including school employees, daycare providers and scout leaders.