CAPE ELIZABETH – The loss of $272,286 in state subsidy dollars will drive Cape Elizabeth’s $21.7 million school budget – already up $611,127 (or, 2.9 percent) on new spending – to a 3.4 percent increase, overall.

According to school officials, the 7.7 drop in state funding will help to add $162 to the property tax bill of the average home in town, given the median assessment of $314,000.

“Obviously we know it’s a difficult time for people, and we have done our best, I think, to reflect that in our budget goals,” said Superintendent Meredith Nadeau, during her Feb. 28 budget presentation to the school board.

However, Nadeau noted that concern for the current economic climate came in third in her budget hierarchy, behind “advancing our [school department] priorities and continuing to make progress,” and “meeting the needs of students.”

“That’s the bottom line, that’s what we’re here to do. That’s education in a nutshell,” she said.

Nearly two-thirds of the proposed increase – $400,344 – is due to a previously contracted 2.4 increase in salaries and benefits. Teaching staff in the district will be entering the second year of a three-year agreement.

Luckily a $452,524 hole created by the evaporation of federal jobs bill money used to plug holes in the current budget is more than offset by an expected $480,000 hike in Medicaid revenue.

However, while teacher pay is the largest dollar bump in the budget, the biggest percentage hike, by far, is instructional support, up $354,764 – or, 49.6 percent. Most of that increase – $117,664 – is dedicated to out-of-district placement for special needs students. By law, a school district must tuition these students out of an appropriate facility if it does not have means to provide the required care.

Other increases come from budget juggling. For example, middle school athletics, previously run by community services, returns to the school budget with a $173,723 price tag – up $33,004 (23.5 percent) from last year.

The school also inherits some transportation responsibility from community services, which next year will operate the community pool, currently shown as municipal line item.

The full budget is available on the district website. School Board Finance Committee Chairman Michael Moore has asked for public comment to be submitted as soon as possible.

“If you do have questions, the earlier we get them the better we can prepare to respond,” he said. “Our goal is to address the questions, communicate to the public the priorities of the district – the reasoning behind the budget changes – and have the School Board vote on the budget at the March 27 meeting,” said Moore.

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