2013-05-03 / Front Page

All day K steals budget show in Cape Elizabeth

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – The Cape Elizabeth Town Council approved the 2013-2014 municipal budget and agreed to send the proposed school budget to voters for a referendum next month.

The combined budget totals $33.2 million, up from $32.2 million in 2012-2013. The increase will add 56 cents per $1,000 of valuation to property tax bills in Cape Elizabeth, a 3.5 percent increase that sets the tax rate at $16.40 per $1,000 of valuation.

The council approval came at a public forum held Monday, April 29 with relatively little public input from the crowd of approximately 25 residents and department heads. Some of those who did speak up at Monday’s forum did so not to oppose the increase on their property tax bill, but to voice their displeasure with a new program that will cost no money at all.

Next year, Cape Elizabeth will offer an all-day kindergarten program for the first time. The school board approved the pilot program during its budget workshop process to offer kindergarten students a day with fewer transitions and more time for small group instruction.

The students for the two full-day kindergarten sections next year will be selected by a lottery system. Some residents argued Monday that all Cape Elizabeth kindergarteners should have the benefit of full-day classes, or the program shouldn’t be implemented at all.

Wood Road resident Sarah Closson told the council she was “shocked” the school board endorses the lottery system. Closson, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth and attended Pond Cove Elementary School, has a daughter entering kindergarten next year.

“In the Cape Elizabeth I grew up in this would be unacceptable,” Closson said.

Beacon Lane resident Ken Lane said the lottery system creates an uneven playing field for students entering first grade because the full-day students will have the unfair advantage of a program that boosts their achievement, creating what he called “a group of haves and have-nots.”

School Board Chairman John Christie explained to the council the reason for the pilot program’s lottery system. If every section of kindergarten was full-day, Christie said, a different group of parents would be speaking to the council to reinstate half-day programs.

The pilot program, he said, will allow the school district to gauge parent interest and offer the new sections at no additional cost in a time of curtailments and cutbacks from the state government.

“We wouldn’t be piloting this program if we didn’t believe it will be successful,” Christie said.

Councilors Frank Governali and David Sherman said the all-day kindergarten decision is in the hands of the school board, not the town council.

“This is a curriculum decision by the school board. As a town council, we’re reviewing the budget, not each individual curriculum decision,” Governali said.

Michael Moore, vice chairman of the school board, said after the meeting residents may treat next month’s budget vote as a referendum on all-day kindergarten, but Moore said he’s pleased with the board’s decision to start with a pilot program.

Moore said there were opinions expressed at the board’s budget workshops on “all sides of the issue,” including support for the pilot program. The interest and controversy around the issue, he said, shows the high level of engagement and involvement of parents in the Cape Elizabeth community.

“Any decision that may impact your child, you’re interested in,” he said.

The town council unanimously approved the $22.5 million school budget, which will go to a voter referendum on Tuesday, May 14. Absentee ballots are available at the town office until Thursday, May 9.

On the municipal side, three residents at the public forum spoke up to support a $10,000 increase in the community services budget that will go toward improvements at Cape Elizabeth’s fitness center.

Director of Community Services Russell Packett said the money will be used to upgrade and improve the equipment at the fitness center when old machines inevitably wear out.

Montgomery Terrace resident Janet Villiotte called $10,000 “a drop in the bucket” of the budget that is worth the cost to continue providing the intangible quality-of-life benefit to residents.

While the council unanimously approved the community services, municipal and school budgets, some expressed a desire to keep costs lower going forward.

Councilor Jessica Sullivan said residents often ask the school board and council to fund programs that she said “are wants and not always needs.” She asked the council to work toward a goal of zero tax increases in the 2014-2015 budget.

“Cape Elizabeth taxpayers deserve a break, and I’m willing to work hard toward that goal,” Sullivan said.

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