Cape Elizabeth School Board willing to meet council half way on budget cuts

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The School Board has come up with alternatives after town councilors cut the proposed school budget.

Councilors on April 27 rejected the budget proposed by the School Board and reduced it by more than $110,000. The Town Council finance committee, comprised of the entire council, said it wants no spending increase in fiscal year 2016.

On Monday, unhappy School Board members decided they will ask the Town Council at a May 11 public hearing to either reinstate the $23.6 million budget as originally presented or cut it by only $50,000. The council could also proceed with the finance committee’s full reduction.

“I know the board clearly would prefer to move forward with the original budget,” School Board Chairwoman Joanna Morrissey said. “We are hopeful (the Town Council) would at least consider all three options before voting.”

Board members and members of the public all expressed dissatisfaction with the finance committee’s decision during a May 4 meeting.

One resident, John Voltz, created a petition urging councilors to restore the budget. It had 57 signatures by Wednesday.

School Board member Michael Moore, who is also the board’s finance chairman, said he disagreed with councilors’ reasoning for cutting the budget. Councilors Jim Walsh and Jessica Sullivan both said the School Board had a “million-dollar swing” because of health-care savings, a retired bond, and an increased state subsidiary.

“While there are items in the budget that decline, there are line items that increase,” Moore said. “Every line item was reviewed and we believe was justified.”

After discussions with Superintendent of Schools Meredith Nadeaud, board members decided they could hit the council finance committee’s target by cutting $50,000 for new accounting software; reducing funds for a new School Department website by $10,000; cutting $35,000 that would have been spent on sharing a new human resources employee with the town; reducing spending on furniture and supplies at the schools by more than $5,200, and reducing spending on various items in the student and staff support, superintendent, and facilities budgets by $10,300.

Their second option is to only cut the $50,000 for new accounting software. Morrissey said the district has needed this software for several years and put it in the budget for fiscal 2016 because the town said it would split the cost.

The town then decided against the purchase, but the School Board had already proposed the spending.

Despite the cuts they are suggesting, all the School Board members said they don’t want the proposed budget to be reduced at all. 

“I think it’s all necessary or we wouldn’t have voted for it,” board member David Hillman said. “I don’t find anything that isn’t necessary or needed.”

When Morrissey asked board members which budget items should definitely not be cut or removed, everyone agreed that anything directly affecting students needs to stay. Reducing funds for new textbooks was looked at as an option, but rejected.

Reducing staff was also ruled out, except for the HR job that has not been filled.

Morrissey said the risk of a no-increase budget this year is that the next budget could require a larger increase than usual.

Councilors are expected to vote the board’s latest proposal on May 11. Their decision will be sent to a public budget referendum on June 9.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.