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Cape Elizabeth budget discussion attracts almost 100 residents

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Cape Elizabeth budget discussion attracts almost 100 residents

CAPE ELIZABETH — About 90 residents attended a workshop Tuesday, Dec. 8, to offer suggestions and brainstorm ways to cope with the 2009-2010 school aid curtailment and further funding cuts expected for 2010-2011.

The workshop was hosted by the town's seven-member Curtailment Committee, which includes School Board members Rebecca Millett and Kathy Ray, Town Council Chairwoman Anne Swift-Kayatta, Councilor Sara Lennon, Tim Thompson as a representative of Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation, Dwight Ely as a representative of the Cape Elizabeth Educational Administrators Association, and Matt Miklavic, a student representative. Ex officio members include Business Manager Pauline Aportria, Town Manager Mike McGovern and Superintendent of Schools Alan Hawkins.

The ad hoc committee was formed in response to the Nov. 20 announcement by Gov. John Baldacci that $63 million would be cut from the state budget, including a $38 million reduction in the state's general purpose aid to education. For Cape Elizabeth, that reduction produces a loss of $621,000 in the current school budget.

Since Cape already has operational efficiencies, such as shared food and transportation services; energy savings; and parent groups, boosters and an education foundation to help fund extracurricular activities, basic classroom supplies, field trips and technology purchases, Tuesday's meeting was intended to produce other ways to save.

Millett, chairwoman of the group, said the public workshop was the first step in moving forward during the challenging time. She said she was impressed by the turnout, and said the high school cafeteria was filled with bright and passionate people who care about the quality of education.

"This is the most people I have seen gathered to work together in order to solve our problems," she said. "They are respectful of one another and and they listen to suggestions offered by their peers."

Groups of residents, teachers, administrators, parents, past and present Town Councilors and School Board members sat at tables where they worked on how to raise and save money in the school system and municipally.

Ideas to generate school revenue included charging for activities, buses, parking, and pool and field use. Other suggestions were to collaborate with nearby high schools and colleges for use of classroom space, supplies and special education; to encourage company sponsorship of school activities; to build a concession stand with naming opportunities, and to accept tuition students .

On the municipal side, common suggestions from many groups included the implementation of a pay-per-bag system at the transfer station, fees at Fort Williams, and a gathering similar to the Yarmouth Clam Festival.

Miklavic said the ideas generated from the public were thoughtful and helpful.

"We, as a School Board, have been discussing this for some time, so it is good to get an outside public opinion," he said. "There have been good ideas offered tonight, and I think it is time everyone focuses on using ideas outside of the box."

Other suggestions for reducing expenses ranged from sharing insurance costs, freezing salaries, eliminating early release days, shortening the school year, implementing furlough days, sharing police and fire services with surrounding communities, combining the middle and elementary schools, merging principals in kindergarten through eighth grade and creating magnet schools.

Steve Maler said his family moved from Pennsylvania to Cape Elizabeth for the schools.

"This has become a 24-hour discussion in our home," he said. "We moved for the quality of the schools, and we are watching it erode rapidly."

Maler said he will continue to stay involved in the process as it evolves, and in the meantime has considered other education options for his two children, such as private schools or homeschooling.

"There are tremendous ideas here, but we should have been doing this two or three years ago," he said.

Another resident, Tom Torre, said he feels strongly about the school system and would be willing to pay more for his children's education.

"I would be comfortable paying $1,000 more for the kids in a minute," he said. "But we need a plan, a strategy to move forward. We should focus on the revenue side, not expenditures."

Millett said the committee will gather all the information generated in the workshop, and then take suggestions to the School Board, the Town Council, CEEF and the teacher's union.

"We are not a decision-making body," she said. "Our goal is to gather recommendations and present a report to town organizations by the middle of January."

She said the next meeting of the committee will be Dec. 22, and suggestions will be made by Jan. 15.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net