The Cape Elizabeth Town Council and School Board hope to have another school project in front of voters by November 2023.

This time around, they say, they hope to better communicate with the public about their plans for new elementary and middle schools and form a joint committee on the project.

In the meantime, they also want to conduct a professional post-mortem survey on the $115.9 million proposal that overwhelmingly failed at the polls Nov. 8, 3,817 to 2,337.

Superintendent Chris Record, Wednesday cited “process, plan and the price” as reasons for the rejection. School board members, councilors and residents attending a joint workshop said communication was a chief culprit, pointing out that in the weeks leading up to the election, information about the project’s tax impact differed depending on the source.

The official tax increase provided by Town Manager Matt Sturgis was 22.6%, but those campaigning against the project claimed it to be 25% – the estimated tax increase before the project was pared back from $126.5 million to $115.9 million. To make matters more confusing, the FAQ section on the school building oversight committee’s website still includes an estimate from 2021 when the project was expected to cost just $80 million.

“I think, as a school board and town council, you need to be very mindful of who is providing what information,” said resident Michelle Boyer.


“The school project having a website was a weekend project for a volunteer,” said Councilor Nicole Boucher, suggesting there needs to be a professional in charge of communication.

School board member Philip Saucier said even though planning for the new schools dates back to 2017, many residents became aware of it just months before the vote, and that the yearlong planning hiatus during the COVID-19 outbreak didn’t help.

“We had a year-and-a-half or so of meetings and were working in a way that I think a lot of people were following it and understanding it, and then we had to pause,” Saucier said. “When we picked it back up again, it felt a little like we had to start over … I heard it during this campaign; there were certain things people were asking questions for that, in my mind, were answered but, of course, they were answered three years ago, and that’s not fair.”

Officials at the meeting agreed with Councilor Penny Jordan’s suggestions that the school board and council create a committee with co-chairpersons and that the town hire a third party to conduct a survey or outreach program “to truly understand” why residents voted for or against the failed proposal.

“I know what I hear, you know what you hear,” she said. “We can all make assumptions, but (we need) to truly take a professional approach in reaching out to citizens to determine what worked, what didn’t work, what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they can afford.”

The school project divided the town, Record said, and that needs to be avoided in the future.

“I think we all should pause, really, and think about who we are as a community, how we treat each other when we disagree,” he said. “We may not agree entirely about this project, in terms of the amount or what it looks like, but how we treat each other matters and the kids are watching.”

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