Cape Elizabeth School Board sends $21M budget to Town Council

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The School Board unanimously approved a proposed $21 million budget for fiscal year 2012 and will present it to the Town Council on Wednesday, April 6.

At the budget adoption meeting on March 22, interim Superintendent of Schools Ken Murphy said the budget reflects a $448,000, or 2.2 percent, increase in spending over this year.

That increase would result in a 1.9 percent increase in property taxes, or add about $85 in annual taxes for the owners of homes valued at about $250,000. 

A $406,000 increase in salaries and benefits is a major driver in the budget, but Murphy said without the help of a very reasonable agreement with the teacher’s association, that number would be much larger. Other increases to the budget include heating oil and fuel costs, property insurance rates, instructional support costs, athletic trainer costs and boiler replacement.

Reductions in the budget include a smaller contingency fund, of about $70,000 – a number Murphy said should be two to three times that amount when the economy improves.

Debt service is down about $34,000 and there is a reduction of 1.5 jobs at Pond Cove Elementary due to declining enrollments, Murphy said.

“We think this is a budget that reflects the economic climate and at the same time it maintains the what is a pretty top-notch school system,” he said.

While all board members supported the budget, David Hillman said he was initially reluctant to support such an “extremely low increase in the net to taxes.”

“To me, it is far below what this town could afford to increase,” he said. “I want people to realize that 1.9 (percent tax increase) this year is an extremely low number for the town, but we are maintaining an excellent school system.”

He said he was comfortable with the projections and assumptions the board has made, but said if there are significant changes to state revenue numbers, school costs or Medicaid, “the only other revenue source we have is town taxes.”

Vice Chairman John Christie said although revenue sources in the future can be uncertain, the school budget asks for a very modest increase to the tax rate while maintaining the programs and services that make the school district outstanding.

“We are taking precautions with this budget in terms of reserving some funds to help cushion those loses for next year,” he said. “So I’m eagerly supporting this budget, which strikes a very careful balance between the needs of the taxpayers and the needs of the district.”

Board member Michael Moore said the budget is realistic, appropriate and reflects realities in areas the board has no control over, namely oil costs and health-care cost increases.

Chairwoman Mary Townsend said she is comfortable with a maintenance budget that upholds the vision of the school system without a major increase for taxpayers.

“The story of this year’s budget is thanks to the prudent planning of last year’s board and to the creative work of our administrators, and a conservative, tentative teacher contract agreement, it appears we will pull through the first year off the cliff without the damage that so many of our neighboring districts seem to be facing,” Townsend said.

The Town Council Finance Committee will review the school and Community Services budgets on April 6 at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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