Loss of state aid delays Cape Elizabeth school budget

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The school budget presentation has been delayed because of a projected $1 million reduction in state aid.

Superintendent of Schools Meredith Nadeau asked the School Board on Feb. 9 to move the scheduled budget presentation from Feb. 23 to March 1. With the expected state aid decline and the recent transfer of Community Services back to the municipal budget, Nadeau said she needs more time to prepare the School Department spending plan.

“Given the recent challenges that we learned of with our budget, and that we aren’t dealing with Community Services’ budget, I would ask the board to consider whether or not it might be willing to delay the start of our budget process to March 1,” Nadeau said.

The board approved the request.

The Department of Education in January projected that it would provide Cape Elizabeth with a state subsidy of $2.43 million, which is a decrease of 29 percent from this year, according to the town website. Factors contributing to the state’s decision include Cape Elizabeth’s rising property values and declining school enrollment.

Nadeau said the $1 million reduction would result in an 8 percent budget increase when paired with an expected 4 percent increase for salaries and benefits. She said she wants to avoid an increase that large.

“In the interest of thoughtful decision-making around what may be some difficult issues to wrestle with, if the board is willing to give more time, we would certainly welcome that,” she said.

The School Board on Feb. 9 also delayed approving the 2016-2017 school calendar because of concerns about the number of early release days at Pond Cove Elementary School. The draft calendar presented in December proposed seven early release days, up from five this school year.

Although the days would be used as professional development days for teachers, some parents had concerns about interrupted learning and because they have trouble finding after-school care. 

In a survey to which 134 parents responded, 73 percent said they would prefer five early release days instead of seven. When asked if they would consider utilizing Community Services on early release days, 77 percent of parents said no, with most of the parents saying they were concerned about the cost.

School Board members Jo Morrissey and Susanna Measelle-Hubbs both said they want more information about what the teachers do during professional development time and how useful they find it.

Chairwoman Elizabeth Scifres and board members Barbara Powers and Michael Moore said they support having more time for professional development. Scifres, though, said she is concerned about disrupting learning time for students.

The board decided it would wait until March 1 to officially approve the calendar.

Additionally, the board is looking for residents to serve on School Board Advisory Screening Committee. The committee will be responsible for reviewing and ranking applications for the superintendent of schools position.

Nadeau announced her resignation in January. After five years as Cape Elizabeth’s superintendent, she will become school chief July 1 in the Newmarket School District in Newmarket, New Hampshire. The School Board accepted her resignation at its Jan. 12 meeting.

The screening committee will be made up of three School Board members, two school administrators, three teachers, two parents and two members of the community. Scifres is accepting applications from residents until March 1.

Applications, which can be emailed to elizabeth.scifres@gmail.com, should include the reason for applying, skills and talents that could be brought to the committee, and previous experience serving the town or schools. 

Once the screening committee ranks the applications, it will send its recommendations to the School Board Hiring Committee, which will conduct interviews. Scifres in January said she hopes to have a new superintendent hired by May.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth, where the School Board is reconsidering the impact of professional development days.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.