The Cape Elizabeth School Board will hold a special meeting next week to discuss the Town Council chairman’s $42 million school bond proposal, board Chair Elizabeth Scifres told the Sentry Wednesday.

“It was not recommended, designed or vetted by anybody,” Scifres said.

Town Councilors Penny Jordan and Caitlin Jordan Harriman and some residents at a meeting Monday said they see council Chair Tim Reiniger’s proposal and the timing of it as a tactic to undermine an $89.9 million school project the school board plans to have on the November ballot.



The council on Monday set July 29 public hearings for the two bond proposals. The $89.9 million bond proposal, developed after nearly two years of work by the School Building Advisory Committee and unanimously approved by the school board last week, would be used to build a new middle school and renovate and expand the elementary school, along with some renovations at the high school.

The $42 million bond proposal, which Reiniger added to the council’s agenda on the morning of the school board’s July 1 vote on the $89.9 million plan, would go toward making “critically needed building repairs and renovations” to the schools. It earmarks $13 million each for the middle and elementary schools and $16 million for the high school. Other than “building security upgrade to front entry” of both the middle and elementary schools, it gives no specifics and does not come with any designs.

“It would be on the ballot as a school bond that was not approved by the school board and without a project attached to it,” Scifres said. “The legality of that is questionable, and the ability for it to pass.”


Councilors voted 4-3 to set a public hearing on the $42 million bond at Monday’s meeting, with councilors Penny Jordan, Caitlin Jordan Harriman and Jeremy Gabrielson opposed. The council then unanimously voted to set a public hearing for the $89.9 million proposal.

Reiniger acknowledged the confusion around the $42 million bond proposal. He said the amount was derived from an estimate in January by Harriman Architects of the minimum it would take to complete necessary safety upgrades and mechanical repairs at the three schools.

“This was not intended as an attempt to defeat what the school board is doing,” Reiniger said. “I think that it’s been perceived that way due to the nature of the timing … I don’t want people to feel unduly threatened by this process. It is just the beginning.”

Scifres told the Sentry the minimum estimate Reiniger referred to may have been the figure of roughly $36 million that surfaced at a School Building Advisory Committee meeting earlier this year.

“It was a data point that was never fully fleshed out,” she said. “They didn’t even consider it.”

Some residents at the meeting said their perception of the intent of the $42 million bond hearing was not wrong.


“There’s no confusion on my part of what this is about; you’re wanting to put this as an alternative,” said resident Elizabeth Biermann. “This does not deserve any more air time or consideration for taxpayers because it’s unvetted.”

Resident Rob Krauser said the open-endedness of the $42 million bond resembles “a blank check” compared to the $89.9 million project that “has been worked on for almost two years now.”

“This is clearly just a tactic to get out of voting for the $89.9 million,” Krauser said.

However, resident John Lewis said the $42 million proposal ought to go to a public hearing because a large part of the community wants to support the schools but thinks that the $89.9 million proposal, which comes with an estimated 10% tax increase, is still too expensive. A $116 million proposal, packing a 22% tax increase, was rejected by 62% of voters in November 2022.

“We all want the best for our kids and our community,” Lewis said. “If we want to ensure that our schools get the attention they need, let’s first stop pretending that those who do not support the school board’s proposal do not support education.”

Jordan, who is also a co-chair of the School Building Advisory Committee, questioned the intentions of the four councilors in support of sending the $42 million bond to a public hearing.


“What’s the endgame you’re shooting for?” Jordan asked. “If you’ve got your four votes lined up on the 29th, then I have a concern.”

“Councilor Jordan,” Reiniger said, “I want to tell you, earnestly, this is not a setup.”

Harriman pressed harder.

“I’ll be a little more bold in my question than Penny,” Harriman said. “Once we get to the public hearing, do you have four votes that intend to send just the $42 million to referendum?”

Councilor Tim Thompson, a member of the School Building Advisory Committee, said he is not tied to the $42 million bond.

“I’ve made a commitment to a lot of the families in this town to keep an open mind,” he said. “I have not made any kind of commitment toward the $42 million.”


Councilor Thompson and others said the council discussed at its June 10 meeting that some amount of money would need to be put forward if the $89.9 million proposal were to fail, and that’s what the $42 million represents.

Councilor Jordan and some residents took issue with the order in which the bonds appeared on the council’s agenda on Monday. They felt as though the $89.9 million proposal should have been discussed and voted on first so they could dismiss a then-unnecessary $42 million bond.

“When I looked at this agenda, and I saw that the council chair specifically requested that this item be discussed before the school board’s referendum, I found that to be very concerning,” Jordan said.

Scifres also questioned why the $42 million bond order was put before the $89.9 million proposal.

“It was a surprise,” she said.

The school board’s special meeting will be held at Town Hall on Thursday, July 18, at 6 p.m.

“We’re going to have a special business meeting to go on the record about whether or not we approve of that bond amount because there’s no project to approve,” Scifres said. “That’s what our job is: we have final authority over the project, not the number and, since there’s no project, it’s very confusing.”

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