The Cape Elizabeth Town Council will send a third school budget to voters Sept. 2, after voters rejected two previous proposed budgets in referendums in June and July.

With virtually no discussion Monday night, the Town Council adopted a compromise school budget of $19.8 million – a 5.3 percent increase.

The vote was unanimous, with council members Cynthia Dill and Sarah Lennon absent.

“I don’t think any of us … thought this process was going to be an easy one, and it certainly didn’t disappoint,” councilor and Finance Committee Chairman James Rowe commented dryly. The process was “probably bumpier than Spurwink Avenue.”

Spurwink Avenue, like the school budget, has been under construction for a good part of 2008.

The budget approved by the council is midway between with a 4.3 percent increase that voters rejected June 10, saying it was too low, and the 6 percent budget voters kyboshed on July 22, saying it was too high.

After approving the budget amount, council members agreed to ask voters for a third time what they thought of the proposed budget in a non-binding question on the ballot.

On the last two ballots, the council had offered two options in the non-binding question: “too low” or “two high.”

This time, however, the council added a third option: “reasonably acceptable.”

The council set a public hearing on the budget, as required by law, for Monday, Aug. 18, at 7:30 in council chambers.

Like many other towns, Cape Elizabeth put its school budget to a town-wide vote for the first time this year under a new state law requiring popular “validation” of school budgets. Previously, school budgets had gotten final approval from only the seven-member town council.

Although no official statistics were readily available, a department of education spokesman said last week that he was aware of only two other towns in Maine, besides Cape Elizabeth, that had failed to pass a school budget on the first or second try.

Cape schools will operate under the last budget approved by the school board – $19.9 million, or a 6 percent increase – until a final budget is approved by voters.

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