Cape Town Councilors Mary Ann Lynch and Ann Swift-Kayatta should be applauded for taking a fiscally responsible and politically risky stand on the school budget.

The two town councilors said this week they would try to hold the schools to the spending cap adopted by the Town Council last year. Despite their stances, it appears other councilors are prepared to allow the schools to exceed the cap.

Cape Elizabeth has a great school system with good teachers and administrators and excellent students. If holding the schools to the spending cap were going to jeopardize the quality of education Cape provides, then spending should exceed the cap. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case this year.

Enrollment in the schools is not growing. Enrollment increased by 17 students in 2005 and 21 students in 2006. Next year it is expected to decrease by 30 students. That’s a net gain of eight students in three years, spread out over 13 grade levels. That’s hardly a growth rate that would threaten class sizes or the quality of education without increased spending.

Councilor Cynthia Dill said she would like to see the cap adjusted to take into account the increase in enrollment last year. The adjustment was offered, but the school board declined it. Dill believes the cap should have been adjusted anyway.

Dill is right; the school budget cap should have been adjusted last year. Unfortunately, adjusting the cap now looks like a way to justify going over the cap this year, rather than a way to account for real changes in enrollment, particularly when a drop in enrollment next year will make this year’s increase a wash.

The town adopted this cap amid the debate over the Palesky tax cap initiative, a tax cap that would have hurt schools and town services because of its meat cleaver approach to cutting government spending. A local spending cap tied to the consumer price index is a responsible response to that. Overriding the spending cap in years when it’s not absolutely necessary would only further the arguments of those who believe government can’t control itself.

If overriding the cap is necessary, school board members need to explain how holding the line will jeopardize the quality of education in Cape Elizabeth. Including things like $19,526 for furniture and equipment replacement in this must-exceed budget doesn’t cut it.

The schools have gotten away from a schedule of replacing furniture for three classrooms every year, and now they want to get back to it. Well, unless the furniture is falling apart, it might have to wait until next year.

Budgeting is about prioritizing and making some tough decisions. That’s an incredibly difficult challenge when it comes to managing an entire school system. However, meeting the cap is within reach this year, and the councilors who are holding the school system accountable are doing the right thing.

Let them vote

It’s unfortunate that a Kennebec Superior Court ruled this week that Taxpayer Bill of Rights should not appear on the ballot in November.

The judge ruled that the secretary of state did not have the authority to accept a box of signatures after the deadline, leaving supporters of the referendum shy of the 50,419 they needed. The judge’s ruling adheres to the letter but not the spirit of the law, and the voters are the ones who lose out.

All of the signatures had been circulated and notarized prior to the deadline. Someone apparently left a box behind in an office. That’s why the secretary of state decided to accept them.

Those that challenged the secretary of state’s ruling are simply interested in keeping the Taxpayer Bill of Rights off the ballot. That’s an unfortunate stance to take in a democracy.

Whether people agree with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights or not, what does it hurt to let the public vote on it?

Brendan Moran, editor

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