Friday, January 29, 1999
Parents comment on proposed Carlisle School budget
Bad weather notwithstanding, the January 13 Carlisle School Association budget forum generated plenty of discussion on what should be included in the school budget and how best to present the school's case for funding to the finance committee, selectmen, and, ultimately, town voters. FinCom member Nina Ostrom, school committee chair David Dockterman, Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson and business manager Eileen Riley were on hand to explain the budget process and the compromises deemed necessary for arriving at agreement on a proposed budget.
Parents were relieved to hear that the full-day kindergarten and elementary guidance counselor, previously funded by the Pig and Pepper fund-raiser, are now within the requested level-service budget.
Not included in budget
The discussion quickly moved to an examination of items not included in the budget. Many of these were removed after the failed override of 1990 and never reinstated. Parents currently pay for all or part of many school programs including field trips, athletic programs, the seventh-grade play and the eigth-grade graduation. Ostrom explained that many FinCom members are of the opinion that parents, as users of the schools, should pay for some activities. Several parents countered with anecdotal evidence that some students are losing out on opportunities because their parents can't afford the fees. Of particular concern were unsubsidized sports fees of $130 per player per sport, the highest in the state. A parent with multiple kids playing multiple sports could find the fees prohibitive. As one parent said, "I worry that policies that seem to favor the economically well-off can be divisive. Kids notice these things." Other parents agreed.
A question was raised as to the effect of having parents pay for field trips. Fox-Melanson cited the third-grade program at the Concord Museum and the fifth-grade visits to the Lowell Mills as examples of valuable curriculum-based field trips that had to be curtailed due to the expense of providing buses.
The lack of foreign language in the elementary school and of a choral music program for the seventh-and eighth-grades also raised questions. Parents learned that Concord begins foreign language in the third grade while Carlisle begins in sixth. This raised concerns that Carlisle students entering high school with only three years of foreign language, compared to Concord's six, would have difficulty competing.
Other missing budget items included several that would appear to be important for the ongoing health of the schools. Many were amazed to hear there is currently no budget for upkeep and repairs to school buildings and grounds. Dockterman cited Concord as an example of a school district that deferred maintenance for years, resulting in a current need for major capital to bring the schools up to safety and health codes. Also absent from the budget, was money for replacing equipment (projectors, microscopes, etc.) as it wears out. As one parent pointed out, "What is the message to students when we just let things deteriorate?"
So how do parents work to get these items included and bring their case to the town? One parent expressed the fear that the town would be divided as it was in 1990 if the wrong steps were taken. Others felt that the time had come to bring the matter to the town directly by supporting a "menu of choices" on the override ballot (with dollars associated with each service). All agreed that getting more parents interested in the process and attending the various meetings in which the school budget is discussed was an important first step. Just attending Town Meeting may not be enough, as many important decisions are made in committee.
Cecile Sandwen is publicity coordinator for the Carlisle School Association.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito