Cape Elizabeth teachers offer salary cut to help balance budget

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The teachers union on March 9 announced its members are willing to work a day without pay as a way to help bridge a budget gap that could otherwise require elimination of more than a dozen jobs.

Dwight Ely, president of the Cape Elizabeth Education Association, said the union would take the equivalent of one unpaid furlough day to help reduce the impact of a no-tax rate increase budget scenario.

He told the School Board on Tuesday, March 9, that a furlough day would not be in the best interest of the schools, and some of the cuts proposed in the superintendents budget could destroy much of the infrastructure of the school system.

But the budget gap must not be closed with program cuts, he said.

“There is a strong desire on the part of staff and teachers to contribute to finding a positive solution to this budget situation,” he said.”We will work all the days next year that are scheduled, but we will take a salary reduction of up to the equivalent of a furlough day anyway.”

Ely said the teachers don’t like to call it a furlough day, because they would be working.

The teachers and staff will help fill the gap through a salary reduction twice the amount the average household in Cape Elizabeth is willing to contribute in additional taxes. Ely said if the property tax for a home valued at $300,000 increases by 40 cents, or roughly $120 per household, the union would contribute $240 per member.

“Yes, teachers cheerfully want to contribute to this furlough day in cash,” he said. “But the exact amount our households will contribute will depend on what the households of Cape Elizabeth feel they need to do to maintain quality in our schools.”

School Board Chairwoman Rebecca Millett said she, Vice Chairwoman Katherine Ray and Superintendent of Schools Alan Hawkins met with union representatives and outlined the budget possibilities.

“We went to them in the spirit of the curtailment meetings (in December) and approached working together as a community,” she said.

The budget environment Millett explained to the union includes three different scenarios the School Board has to consider as it begins work on the fiscal 2011 budget. 

These options include a zero percent tax increase from fiscal year 2010 that would result in significant cuts to programs and services; a midpoint budget that would include both expense reductions and a tax increase, and a maintenance budget that would retain current service levels and boost taxes almost 5 percent.

The zero percent tax increase scenario would mean a $20.1 million budget, an increase of $145,000 or 0.7 percent from this year.

The midpoint budget of $20.6 million would increase this year’s school budget by $567,000 or 2.8 percent.

The third option would increase the school budget to $21 million, a 4.9 percent or $988,000 jump from this year.

The first scenario wouldn’t affect the schools’ $12.54 portion of the tax rate.

The second option would raise the tax rate by 31 cents to $12.85, a 2.5 percent increase or $79.60 more a year for owners of a home valued at $254,000.

The third option would add 63 cents and raise the tax rate to $13.17, an increase of $159.02 a year for owners of median-priced homes.

Hawkins said shifting numbers in state revenue funding has made the budget a moving target, but recent proposed changes to general purpose aid to education is encouraging.

In January, Hawkins said it was estimated Cape could face a $1.7 million reduction in state subsidy, but by February that number was reduced to $40,000. Last week, when state announced the addition of $20 million to general purpose aid, Hawkins was notified the district would receive $252,500 more than expected.

“This increase in funding has a lot to do with our decreasing property value,” he said.

Even with the additional funding from the state, Hawkins said there are significant increases within the budget: salaries and benefits are up $515,000, heating oil is up almost $65,000, out-of-district tuition is up $63,000, and legal services are up $42,000. Medicaid funds are expected to decline and undesignated funds, included in this year’s budget, are not available for 2011.

In order to balance the nearly $1.1 million increase in expenditures and maintain a no-tax rate increase would require the reduction of approximately 13 full-time equivalent positions, for a savings of $701,000 from the salary and benefits line.

High school athletic fees would be increased from the current $125 per year, and routine maintenance of the Middle School/Pond Cove School cafeteria divider and tile work at the high school will be postponed.

The School Board will meet Monday, March 15, and Thursday, March 18, at 7 p.m. in the high school library to workshop details of the three budgets. There will be a public meeting on March 30 at 7 p.m. in the high school cafeteria to allow residents to ask the board and Hawkins questions about the budget, and to speak in a less formal setting.

Budget information is also available on the School Department Web site.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or