Cape students, residents urge caution on budget

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Nearly 125 residents, students, parents and teachers gathered in the high school cafeteria Wednesday, March 31, to discuss the fiscal year 2011 school budget proposals.

The School Board has met six times to discuss three budget scenarios:

• A zero percent tax increase that would require significant cuts to programs and services and potentially require the loss of 13 teachers.

• A midpoint budget that would include expenditure cuts and a tax increase and the loss of about seven teachers.

• And a maintenance budget that would retain the current level of programming but  require a tax increase of nearly 5 percent. About two teachers would be lost under this scenario.

A group of students spoke Wednesday in support of a few programs proposed to be reduced or cut entirely. They encouraged board members to continue to fund the Mock Trail and theater programs, Mandarin language classes and secretarial positions held by Joan Moriarty and Barbara Cummings.

A.J. Frustaci, a senior and theater council president, said while a one-tenth cut in the theater program sounds minor, it would impact the program significantly.

“A cut like this would cripple the program,” he said. “This program affects hundreds of students from first grade through senior year.”

Other students and parents spoke in support of the program, crediting theater director Richard Mullen for teaching children life skills such as communication, relationship-building, confidence, problem-solving and public speaking.  

Other people spoke in support of the chorus program, media specialists, literacy teachers and clinical councilors, which are all proposed to be reduced or eliminated.

Resident Dan Fishbein encouraged the board to work with the Town Council to compile a town-wide budget, not separate municipal and school budgets.

He said the municipal budget is mostly comprised of items – roads, police cars and maintenance equipment – while the schools are made up of people and are dependant on state funding. There are differences, he said, but  taxpayers don’t distinguish between the two; they pay the bill.

“Everything is fee-free on the municipal side, while parents are paying hundreds of dollars per year to send kids to a public school,” he said. “We are tired of fees and don’t want to see teachers fired. As parents, we need to talk about these comparisons.”

School Board Chairwoman Rebecca Millett said the board would review all comments and questions presented at the public workshop and would post responses to the school Web site within the week.

She encouraged residents to review the budget documents, and said the board is expected to make a final decision on the budget on April 13. The board is also scheduled to meet for an additional workshop and public hearing session on Monday, April 5, at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

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