2019-03-08 / Front Page

School board eyes $27 million budget

School Board eyes $27.37 million draft budget

Even with a projected $400,000 increase in state subsidy, the Cape Elizabeth School Board is struggling with a potentially unacceptable tax-rate increase for 2019-2020.

At a workshop Feb. 26, the board directed Superintendent Donna Wolfrom and administrators to identify priorities in the draft $27.37 million budget proposal. The original request budget represents a 7.8 percent increase in spending over this year, and would add 96 cents (7 percent) to the school tax rate of $13.76.

Included in the proposal is $189,000 for a facilities needs assessment, an item recommended by an ad hoc committee that met four times this fall to determine the need for the study.

Even without the needs assessment, another $61,000 would need to come out of the budget to reduce the increase by 1 percent. A target increase of 6 percent (a 5.1 percent tax increase) would leave $450,000 out of the budget proposal.

Board members agreed they should hear from departments that have not yet answered budget questions, including special education, facilities and transportation, improvement of instruction, superintendent's office, technology and athletics, but they also asked for alternate, lower-cost budget scenarios.

"I think it comes to us doing our due diligence," said board member Laura DeNino. "We can't just can't take a face value and say let's run with that. We need to look at other alternatives."

Some of the proposed increases are for new personnel and programs, including added staff to supervise lunch periods at Pond Cove Elementary School and a reception- ist at the school to enhance safety. Others would replenish lines for supplies and maintenance that were not included in the current year's budget.

"What I would want to see is, if we just did nothing (new) but we repaired the damage from the deferred maintenance last year, where would we be?" said board member Hope Straw.

"Personally, I would like to see what it would look like if we have no changes, but put things back in from last year that we cut out," Straw said. "I'm not saying that's where I want to be, I'm just saying philosophically, I'd like to see that number."

Other scenarios could add in the needs-assessment, and then new requests based on priority, she said.

The Feb. 26 meeting was the second of five scheduled workshops to determine the 2019-2020 school budget. The board was scheduled to meet March 5 to look at the effects enrollment, federal and state mandates and the state funding formula all have on staffing.

"Specifically how we staff our school department," said Elizabeth Scifres, chairman of the board's finance committee. "Not just the how but the why ... what drives staffing beyond the simple enrollment numbers, because there's a lot that goes in to it," she said.

Workshops are also scheduled for March 26 and April 4 before final school budget adoption April 9. The budget then goes to the town council for adoption as part of the 2019-2020 municipal budget, and final approval by voters June 11.

Budget updates are posted on the School Department's budget website.

– Information compiled from the town of Cape Elizabeth website.

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