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Cape cautious on school budget, despite stimulus

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Cape cautious on school budget, despite stimulus

CAPE ELIZABETH — Although the state has announced that federal stimulus funds will be used to offset curtailments to local school budgets, Cape Elizabeth is moving forward cautiously with its fiscal 2010 budget.
Expecting funds from the $787 billion stimulus will help offset $421,000 in state cuts to Cape schools this year, Superintendent Alan Hawkins said Tuesday that there's still no final word on how the money could impact next year's budget.
Based on increases in contracted salaries and previously expected flat-funding from the state, Hawkins has prepared a preliminary budget that cuts $1.1 million from existing costs and staff, though the budget itself represents a 2 percent spending increase from the current year.
The School Board moved forward Tuesday with its second workshop on the budget, hearing reports from the technology, athletics, community services and facilities departments. Hawkins has already included department recommendations in his preliminary budget; the workshop allowed School Board members and the public to hear explanations for cuts and discuss alternatives.
In order to accommodate a 2 percent budget increase, the technology department has proposed cuts of $18,000. Those cuts come primarily from decreasing staff development. School Board members, including Chairwoman Trish Brigham, said they hope to restore funding to the technology budget, especially since the board has made increasing technology integration a priority this year.
The potential for using future federal stimulus money for this purpose was mentioned, and the hope became a common theme for the evening, though no further information on the stimulus package is expected from the Department of Education until next month.
Athletic Director Jeff Thoreck outlined his plan for maintaining support for all existing athletic programs, including freshmen teams. He proposed cutting funds for freshmen coaching staff.
The cut allows the school to continue funding five home and five away games, with the hope that varsity, junior varsity and assistant coaches can balance schedules to continue operating a third team. Freshman teams have typically shared some practice time with the upper-level teams, he said.
Booster organizations could also opt to fund the lower-level coaching positions, Thoreck said.
The Community Services budget became a point of some contention for School Board members. Because oversight of the program is shared by the school and town administration, some felt the budget process was unclear, if not also unfair.
Comparing her program to Cinderella, Director Janet Hoskin said "we're waiting for someone to put a slipper on our foot and tell us where we belong."
Community Services oversees middle school sports, community education, the fitness center, the pool, transportation and custodial services.
School Board members asked Hawkins to meet with the town to clarify the process and breakdown of the Community Services budget. Though the matter has little impact on the taxpayer, cuts made to the town versus the school side of the budget affect the percentage increases or decreases on either side.
A similar issue surfaced when talking about the facilities budget: the town has proposed cutting its facilities manager position down to a half-time position, but because the school also relies on the position, the school may need to increase its own facilities budget to accommodate the town cut.
Brigham said she was afraid the School Department may be portrayed as "the bad guy" if  it needs to further increase its budget, despite the need being caused by a municipal cut.
Though opportunity for public comment was offered at the end of the meeting, only one resident spoke. David Hillman suggested that more money could be cut from administrative costs. He noted there are four different administrative secretary offices.
The School Board held a third budget workshop Thursday, Feb. 26, after The Forecaster's deadline. The board is scheduled to vote on adopting the budget at its March 10 meeting. After voting, the budget will go to the Town Council and eventually to a public referendum in May.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or strent@theforecaster.net.

CAPE ELIZABETH —Thanks to new Web server technology, some town meetings – including the two recent School Board budget workshops – will be available as podcasts on the town Web site.
The first budget workshop podcast is available on Superintendent Alan Hawkin's new blog. A link to the podcast can be found in an article about the new technology on the town Web site.

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