Thursday, February 13, 2003

Board says support for schools dropping

Published in the Current

While the Town Council likes to point out that Cape Elizabeth spends more per capita on schools than any other town in the state, the School Board says the truth is the town’s support of schools is dropping and it now ranks 30th in terms of per pupil spending.

“You’re not putting into your school system what other districts are,” Superintendent Tom Forcella said of the town’s contribution at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting.

“The amount of money we’re spending per pupil has fallen dramatically” compared with other schools, Forcella said. “We’re not putting in the effort financially that the towns around us are putting into their schools,” he said.

School officials say the town’s per-pupil spending is being outpaced by towns throughout the state, including many in Cumberland County, to which the school system regularly compares itself.

In 1995-1996, Cape was fourth in the state and second in the county in per pupil spending, when compared with other K-12 school districts with more than 500 students, according to state statistics distributed by Forcella.

In 2001-2002, the district was 30th in the state and seventh in the county, indicating what Forcella called “a continuous downward trend.”

The state Department of Education ranks schools’ per-pupil spending after factoring out transportation costs and loan payments. Adding those in would probably lower the town’s ranking even more, Forcella said.

Board member Kevin Sweeney said the numbers disturbed him because the district made a significant push to raise teacher salaries three years ago, which seemed to have no effect on the slipping ranking. He went on to say that cuts already have been made wherever they can be, and even in some places that might not be able to be sustained with less money.

“When it comes to what kids need in classrooms and what teachers need in classrooms, we’ve been cutting,” Sweeney said.

Finance Committee Chairman Elaine Moloney said the School Board was reassessing how much effort townspeople want them to make on behalf of the schools.

“We really will be looking at getting a better feel from our community about how much support they want to put behind our budget,” she said.