Apart from Town Council interviews for a spot on the Cape Elizabeth Conservation Commission, all the action today is in Scarborough. South Portland, in fact, has nothing no the docket until Monday. But even in Scarborough, pickings are slim, with no new action on tonight’s own Town Council agenda. So then, consider this a “bits and pieces” edition of Keeping Current.

Rule the school: While there is no new business for Scarborough town councilors to consider this evening, there is one possibly contentious bit of old business before them. Tonight will be the second reading and adoption of the town budget for the new fiscal year to start July 1. That will set the municipal operating budget at $28.29 million and the school operating budget at $42.63 million. Although the increase in school spending has been cut in half from the initial “needs-based” budget proposed by Superintendent George Entwistle, it’s still nearly double the 3 percent cap on new spending the council suggested in January. It would take $650,000 in cuts to make the council goal, and councilors will have their final opportunity to take a stab at the bottom line tonight, before sending the school budget off to a public validation vote.

Remember the 300: Although listed under resolutions rather than new business, Scarborough councilors will have at least one novelty before them. That resolution, part of an increasing trend of municipalities weighing in on state matters, seeks to sway legislators into opposing LD 300, “An Act to Protect School Administrative Units and Taxpayers.” The title certainly sounds like something everybody would be for, but the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Henry Beck of Waterville, protects health insurance companies from providing loss information to school units on their employees. In other words, the bill overturns a law passed in the last legislative session that lets the governor release insurance loss information to school districts, enabling them to use that data in seeking competitive bids from other providers. That law, the resolution reads, “breaks a decades-long virtual monopoly by the Maine Education Association Benefits Trust over local health insurance costs” in which it was able to conceal loss data for individual school districts. The resolution further points out that both the U.S. Federal Court in Maine and the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in Boston knocked down the MEA’s attempts to block implementation of the change, which LD 300 attempts to undo. Scarborough’s resolution, if adopted, would come just in time for a public hearing on the bill in Augusta, May 6 in front of the education committee chaired by state Sen. Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth.

Gauntlet thrown: It’s not just Scarborough that’s concerned about LD 300. Cape Elizabeth Councilor Jessica Sullivan also spoke out against the bill earlier this week at a budget hearing there. Sullivan did vote for the school budget for the first time in her tenure on the council, but said she supported both the school and town spending plans with “serious reservations.” Noting projections by economist Charles Colgan of the Muskie School of Public Service that Maine will not recover from “the great recession” until 2016 at the soonest, Sullivan spoke to the “great fiscal challenge” this poses to towns and schools. “We are continually asked for things that are wants and not necessarily needs,” she said. “Where do we draw the line? Is our municipal government to be everything to every citizen for every want?” Sullivan than made a challenge that could sell be a non-starter – flat-funding for both the school and town next year. Sullivan’s call from a “zero percent” increase in spending in spending for the fiscal year to start July 1, 2014, seems unlikely, given the luck South Portland Mayor Tom Blake had with his call for a 1 percent increase this year, or the attention paid to the Scarborough school board of the 3 percent cap set by the council there.

How the cookie crumbles: You may remember the commotion caused late last year when nine students were suspended from Cape Elizabeth High School after one of the them reported to the nurses office December 7, as the school was conduction a day-long TEDx video seminar. As it turns out the student had eaten a cookie laced with marijuana. After a police investigation, three students, aged 15 to 17, were arrested December 19 for selling the cookies, while eight others were summonsed for possession of marijuana. Given that school policy calls on an automatic expulsion for drug trafficking, one might wonder why the school board never held such a hearing. According to Superintendent Meredith Nadeau, that’s because you can’t expel someone who is no longer a student. In a recent interview, Nadeau declined to say as much explicitly, but suggested that comparison of December enrollment to January would show a telling decrease. “Sometimes,” she did say, “parents have to make decisions that they feel are right for themselves and their families.”

Traffic control: Meanwhile, things seem fairly quiet in South Portland right now, although City Manager Jim Gailey has announced a means to try and get the attention of speeders in the city. On Tuesday, Gailey wrote on Twitter, where he posts as @sopomanager, that “SLOW DOWN” lawn signs are available free of charge at the city clerk’s office. Because South Portland never has more than four patrol cars on the road at any one time, they can’t be everywhere to run radar patrols, especially when responding to an emergency call. Consequently, it is not uncommon to see motorists tooling down South Portland streets, where the limit is 25 miles per hour, in excess of 45. The signs, first tried last year, are limited to one per property owner.

Today’s public meetings

Cape Elizabeth Appointment’s Committee, 5 p.m. at town hall (technology room).

Scarborough Town Council, 7 p.m. at town hall.

Thursday’s public meetings

Cape Elizabeth Ordinance Committee, 8 a.m. at town hall (Jordan room).

• Scarborough Board of Education, 7 p.m. at town hall.

• Scarborough Housing Alliance, 7 p.m. at town hall (manager’s room).

• Cape Elizabeth Recycling Committee, 7:30 p.m. at public works.


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