Friday, June 17, 1998

School funding approaches crossroads

by Phyllis Zinicola

The Carlisle School Association voted on November 18 to award $5,500 in grants to help teachers enhance their curriculum. While most of the grant money will be used to purchase materials supporting innovative approaches to learning, approximately one-third of the money will be spent to acquire basic tools for the classroom such as microscopes and dictionaries.

This split highlights a growing concern among the school association leadership that money the group raises for curriculum enhancement will be necessary to pay for regular operating expenses that should be part of the school budget. The increased pressures on the association’s treasury and the predictions for a tight FY99 operating budget raise larger issues about the relationship between the school and the town, and issues about who decides how the money raised by the association is spent.

Carlisle School Association

The Carlisle School Association is the parent-teacher organization for the Carlisle School consisting of 15 board members and over 350 members. The association’s purpose, as printed in the school handbook, is to “contribute to the educational standards of the school, under the direction of the school administration, through grants and cultural enrichment and to act as a liaison between school, parents and community.”

The association traditionally raises approximately $20,000 a year from its various fundraising efforts including sale of the Husky Handbook, gift wrap, sweatshirts and books. From this amount, $5,500 was earmarked this year to fund grant proposals submitted by teachers in the fall, $6,000 was reserved for cultural enrichment programs that bring in performers and other artists, and approximately $3,000 will be set aside for another round of grants in the spring. After operating expenses are met, the remainder is generally kept as a reserve.

In determining how grants are awarded, the association gives highest priority to team requests which involve innovation or require seed money for ongoing projects. Although the association does not like to see itself as a funding source of last resort, increasingly, the board has received requests from teachers for supplies such as band folders and art materials. “The Carlisle Public School is a world-class institution and the administration does a commendable job of covering its needs,” said school association president Kathy Rubenstein, “but things fall through the cracks.” Grants coordinator Cecile Sandwen added, “It makes it hard to define our role as a grant-making body when fundamental needs are not being met.”

Grants awarded this year include the purchase of books for literature circles for the eighth grade, cultural videos for the seventh grade, a video art series, materials for two new units in the French program and keepsake books used in the first grade. Grants will also be used for a fourth-grade trip to Orchard House, school newspaper supplies and die-cut patterns for use in the K-2 curriculum.

Other pieces of the pie

The school budget for this year is $4,654,612. Preliminary guidelines prepared by the finance committee for FY99 raise this budget by five percent to $4,887,343. School committee members have stated that this increase is inadequate to maintain current service levels in light of a three percent increase in student enrollment, a 2.75 percent increase in cost of living and increases in other contractual obligations which the school must pay.

Carlisle Education Foundation

Although outside of the budget process, another variable of the funding equation is the Carlisle Education Foundation. This foundation is a private non-profit organization founded in

1990, the purpose of which is to raise funds to augment and enrich the Carlisle School. The foundation’s most successful fundraiser has been the Pig & Pepper festival which this year netted $55,000 for the Carlisle Public School. The foundation’s money is controlled by a seven-member volunteer board of directors headed by Paula Trebino.

The education foundation funds projects and programs and cannot provide money for operating expenses, said Trebino. The foundation’s first project was to reopen the school library. Money raised for the past three years has been used to implement the school’s technology plan. This is the last year of that plan.

At the education foundation's latest meeting on November 25, school superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson informed the foundation of several items which at this point, based on conversations with the finance committee, fall outside the school budget. These items include funding for a full-day kindergarten, an integrated pre-school, a computer-delivered language lab and indoor air quality training and support. On a more basic level, the current budget also will not cover new algebra texts, new literature texts, new class maps and a reserve for repair and replacement of the existing computer stock.

Fox-Melanson stressed that this wish list may change depending upon the outcome of budget negotiations with the finance committee. Trebino stated that, with the possible of exception of the language lab, none of the items on the list would be appropriate for the education foundation to fund.