Friday, May 8, 1998

Override budget passes at Town Meeting

by Phyllis Zinicola

Sending a clear message that the town supports education, voters at Town Meeting on Monday, May 4, overwhelmingly approved the FY99 operating budget, including the Proposition 2 1/2 override, presented in Article 5 of the Warrant. Out of the $115,000 override amount, approximately $97,000 will be allocated to the Carlisle Public Schools to fund their FY99 operating budget which, in its final form, contained services slightly reduced from the current year’s budget.

Not only did the override request easily pass, but the longest discussion concerned whether to give the schools more money to maintain services at the same level as offered this year. Richard Colman of Audubon Lane made a motion to add $44,000 to the school budget to pay for continuing the full-day kindergarten program, replacement of outdated math textbooks and reinstatement of a full-time elementary guidance counselor. After months of negotiation, the school committee, finance committee and selectmen opted to present to the town a school budget that did not include these items in order to keep the amount of the anticipated override as low as possible.

In supporting his motion, Colman asserted that the decision about whether to maintain level services at the school should be made at Town Meeting. Speaking on behalf of the finance committee, Allen Deary noted that the committee would like to have avoided cuts in school services but had struggled to reconcile the unmet needs of all town departments. All further comments from the audience supported Colman’s contention that the items cut from the school budget were worthwhile and that in relation to the size of the overall town budget (approximately $10 million) the additional $44,000 was minimal.

The motion floundered, however, when the discussion turned toward how the extra $44,000 would be funded. Colman suggested that a separate override election be scheduled. To avoid the need for another election, former selectman Dave Watson

suggested that the funds be transferred from free cash, and the motion was so amended.

FinCom chair Nancy Pierce and Russell Street resident Beth Hambleton, a former FinCom member, both advised against depleting the free cash account any further. “Free cash is our rainy day fund,” said Hambleton, and is used to cover any emergency or operating deficit that may occur in the middle of the fiscal year.

The motion as amended was defeated, although it was not clear whether the majority of voters were against the increase in the school budget or just against taking the increase from free cash.

Norfolk Agricultural

The only other line item in the operating budget which drew a debate was the $20,000 allocated for tuition and transportation for a student moving to Carlisle who wants to complete studies at Norfolk County Agricultural High School. According to the finance committee, the town is mandated by state law to pay these costs since Carlisle's local high schools do not offer a similar curriculum.

Stating that in his opinion the town was being “strong-armed,” Andrew Ostrom of Ledgeways made a motion that the town vote not to pay these costs even though they may be mandated by the state. “I know there are regulations,” said Ostrom, “but there are times when you have to stand up against regulations.” This sentiment was greeted with applause.

Nevertheless, Pierce informed the meeting that she had spoken with a representative from the state Department of Education about the matter. She had been told that if the town protested the tuition amount, not only would the town be forced to pay, but legal costs would be incurred in the process. In the end, the town voted to follow the law and pay the $20,000 for the one student, 226 in favor and 155 opposed.

The Proposition 2-1/2 override, Question 3 on the ballot, must still receive a majority of votes at the town election on Monday, May 11.