Cape Elizabeth school chief suggests increased spending freeze to help fill budget gap

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Jan. 18 School Board finance meeting, with a few adjustments, was a repeat of the Nov. 23, 2009, discussion on how to cope with a $621,000 loss in state funding for the current school year.

Superintendent of Schools Alan Hawkins presented his budget adjustment proposal once more to a dozen residents, the School Board and Business Manager Pauline Aportria.

After reviewing the information, the board will discuss the proposal at its next Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 6:30 p.m. in the high school library. Members anticipate a vote on the proposal at their Feb. 9 business meeting.

Hawkins said he investigated many options to make up for the mid-year funding gap that will leave a $38 million shortfall in the state’s general purpose aid to education. He also expressed trepidation about many of his suggestions, since there will be difficult budget hurdles in 2011.

Hawkins’ proposal suggests appropriating $70,000 from a contingency fund, $32,500 from debt service, and $17,000 from staff reductions to offset unexpected expenses. Hawkins also suggests increasing an existing freeze in $104,000 of non-essential spending to $125,000.

Despite the freeze, Hawkins said he will work with administrators to ensure all classroom supply needs are met.

In addition, his proposal includes a $70,000 budget freeze within the capitol improvement plan. Aportria said trim and window repairs and lighting projects at the high school could be delayed, as well as floor replacement, bathroom upgrades and painting projects at the middle school.

Hawkins also proposed allocating $342,000 from undesignated funds, and $210,000 from Medicaid revenues, using the next budget year’s allocations. These savings, coupled with additional revenue from bond refinancing of $73,000, can help shrink the budget gap.

These decisions will leave $200,000 from undesignated funds and $117,000 from Medicaid revenues for the 2011 fiscal year, a position Hawkins said makes him nervous. In the past, an annual balance of at least $250,000 has been available in undesignated funds.

“We have to spend the $552,258 to pay for the shortfall for the midyear gap,” he said. “This will bring us to 2011, but it will be tight. I never allow it to get this tight, but now, this is my recommendation.”

Hawkins said his goal was to have the least possible negative impact on classroom activities. He said he looked at reducing the number of custodians, but there are too few, and he looked at transportation savings, pay cuts and a superintendent pay freeze.

“I looked at all possibilities, and at this point in time, this is what I propose,” he said. “Administrators are taking their budgets back to zero and working their way upwards.”

Although a furlough day was discussed in November and brought up again on Jan. 18, Hawkins said it “is not a good idea at this time.”

He said designating a furlough day is a School Board decision and union representatives would have to be involved.

He also said three-year teacher contracts are due to be negotiated in 2011.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]