CAPE ELIZABETH — There are two items on the June 13 municipal ballot: a $24.8 million school budget and an open Cape Elizabeth-South Portland seat on the Portland Water District Board of Trustees.
The proposed fiscal 2018 school budget represents an increase in spending of nearly $591,500 and a 55-cent increase in the tax rate.
The only candidate for the water district seat is Matthew Beck of South Portland.
The polls will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. in the gym at Cape Elizabeth High School. Early voting is available at Town Hall through 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 8. See the town website, at capeelizabeth.com or call the town clerk’s office at 799-7665 for more information.
Superintendent of Schools Howard Colter and School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Scifres said the school spending package represents a responsible budget that is based on the needs of students.
Even so, at the May 15 Town Council meeting, Councilors Jessica Sullivan and Kathy Ray opposed the proposed school budget; both questioned the need for an increase in spending as the schools experience a decrease in enrollment.
In her remarks that night, Sullivan said “It is important to make our decisions dispassionately, based upon facts and not emotions … and we must ensure that any tax increase is responsible and every budget has integrity.”
In her remarks Ray said she supports the schools, but added, “This is not a bare-bones budget.” Like Sullivan, she argued that with declining enrollment and less state aid for education, the school budget needs to be pared down.
For her part, Scifres said, “I am concerned that the controversy at the council level conflated two problems that do not belong together.”
“The School Department does not have a spending problem,” she said this week. “In fact, this is a lean budget. However, over the past several years the governor has added new costs to school districts, such as shifting teacher retirement costs and taking money from (public schools) to fund charter schools.”
What that means, Scifres said, is that “our expenses have gone up against our will at the same time that our state revenue has been drastically cut.”
The budget as proposed does include several new positions, including three new educational technicians at Pond Cove Elementary; full-time gifted and talented position; an eighth-grade teacher; a one-third position for a behavior specialist; and one more custodian.
“I feel this budget is solid and meets our needs for the coming school year,” Colter said this week. “I would describe this budget as responsible (with) no frills. We built this budget with input from teachers, staff and administrators.”
He said the School Board “remained focused on what is best for children” while also being “sensitive to the fact that the economy is still in recovery and that any increase in taxes will be a hardship for many citizens.”
Colter said, “The board has a difficult job setting a budget, and did it well. It’s a defensible, responsible budget that’s anything but excessive. It’s well thought out and fully supported by the School Board.”
Scifres said the spending package represents “a careful, thoughtful budget strictly based on the needs of our students.”
“Supporting this budget means supporting the students of Cape Elizabeth and supporting future generations, as well as supporting the excellence in education that draws people to move here and helps keep Cape property values strong,” she said.
“This budget provides the schools the basic funds to operate and maintain facilities, as well as meet the mandated academic, physical, and social-emotional needs of all students. Our community expects excellent educational opportunities for our students, and this budget meets that obligation,” Scifres added.
When it comes to the ballot box, she said, “I hope and believe the residents of Cape Elizabeth will continue to value quality education, while at the same time coming together to problem-solve the revenue problem that impacts all of us as taxpayers.”
In addition to asking residents whether they favor the school budget as proposed, the ballot will have a secondary question that asks whether they believe the spending is too high, acceptable or too low.