CAPE ELIZABETH — Voters approved the school budget by a wide margin in a referendum Tuesday, despite a push by some parents to reject the budget out of opposition to a full-day kindergarten pilot program.
At $22.5 million, the budget for fiscal year 2014 represents a significant chunk of the $33.2 million municipal budget, an overall 3.5 percent increase from this year’s spending.
The budget passed 625-377. In a non-binding question included on the ballot, 320 voters said they found the budget too high, 441 found it acceptable and 218 said the budget was too low.
Another question on the ballot, on the continuation of the referendum process for validating school budgets, was also overwhelmingly approved, 702-291. The referendum procedure must be re-approved by voters every three years.
Turnout was low, with about 13 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. Town Clerk Debra Lane said Tuesday it was likely not many people showed up because the ballot only concerned the school budget. In previous years, she said, turnout has been higher when other issues were also on the ballot.
Some parents said they would vote against the budget because it includes, at no extra cost, a pilot program for full-day kindergarten at Pond Cove Elementary School.
The parents said the program would be unfair to students unable to participate in the two kindergarten sections that would be adapted to extend from half to full days.
A group of parents sent out a mailer to residents last week urging them to reject the budget, and posters with the same message were left at the IGA grocery store on Ocean House Road.
Town and school officials made attempts in recent weeks to make a distinction between opposing the budget and opposing the kindergarten program. School Board Vice Chairman Michael Moore said at a parents’ meeting last week that rejecting the budget would only cost the town the expense of coming up with a new budget, which would still include the pilot program.
Lane said some people showed up at the polls expecting to vote on the kindergarten program as a separate question.
“There’s been some misinformation about items on the ballot,” she said at the polls at Cape Elizabeth high School. “We’ve had some angry people.”
On a Facebook page called “Don’t Let Cape Discriminate,” some parents urged that rather than declare the budget too high or too low, dissatisfied voters should write in their opposition to “unequal kindergarten.”
Lane wouldn’t say Wednesday if poll workers had noticed this message showing up, but said the vote-counters did not track the number of people who may have written on their ballot because it was not one of the official questions.