Friday, July 30, 1999
It's Time to Speak Up About SPED
The Concord Board of Selectmen recently sent a strong appeal to the governor and officials on Beacon Hill to reform funding for special education services. While legislators are hammering out next year's budget, it seems a prudent time for Carlisle officials to echo Concord's concerns and point out the strain that state-mandated special education services places on the education budget and town coffers.
For years, the Carlisle School Committee has pointed to the rising costs of mandated special education services when they request funding increases well beyond that which other town departments receive. Special education services absorbed $894,227 of the $5.1 million Carlisle Public School budget in FY99. With local budgets constrained by the limits of Proposition 2-1/2 and taxpayers' hesitancy to fund budget overrides, Concord selectmen refer to the "unhealthy confrontations" emerging between segments of local government and "regular" and special education needs.
There is no dispute about the need for special education. However, the state provides no funding for the broad range of services which must be provided under the law. Efforts to change the language in the law have created a politically and emotionally-charged atmosphere. As a result, the Concord selectmen reveal what they perceive as an unfortunate reality on Beacon Hill. "Funding reform is currently held hostage to the politically-charged debate over special education standards." But Concord officials believe that regardless of which of those standards are applied, "special education will continue to cost more money than local property taxes and budgets can bear."
With the state budget currently under debate and the Education Reform Act of 1993 about to expire, the time is ripe to demand that state officials appropriately fund the educational services that they mandate. The Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee already endorsed the letter from the Concord selectmen; the Carlisle selectmen, Carlisle School Committee and residents should echo their cry for relief.
For us, it began when our neighbor, an avid gardener, looked over our backyard vegetable garden this spring and casually remarked, "You ought to get a real garden." Like many Carlisle backyard gardens, ours is half in shade for half the day.
Five dollars and a signature later, we had ourselves a fifty-foot-square plot on Foss Farm. We ventured down 225 toward Bedford, and took a left just past Dr. Morey's animal hospital. After passing through the parking lot and along a winding, sandy road, a huge, level field with tilled brown ridges stretched out before us. On the backside of the field we saw other cars, a couple of helmeted hand pumps, and markers indicating twenty or so plots. Only one other plot was farther from the pump than ours.
We laid out rows and dug into the soil. The spade went down and down without a hint of rocks or gravel, like an illustration in a gardening manual. Trees at the edge of the field cast feeble shadows into the glare of the open ground. The sky stretched above us as if we were in Iowa. We had a real garden now.
About two thirds of the plots, covering roughly an acre, were active. Ten plots down, our neighbor tilled his potatoes. Young families and retirees labored shoulder by shoulder. Some planted on the flat ground; some used raised beds and mounds; some planted in rows, others in clumps. Peas rose on twisted sticks or chicken wire, or crept along the ground.
As May and June arrived, plants began to wither in the sun. Twice a week we lugged watering cans to thirsty tomatoes and eggplants. Wind whipped up dust in the rows. The parched shoots of corn that dotted the wide field around us, together with the metal hand pumps, took on the soil-tinted light of Oklahoma in the 1930s.
One day I asked a gardener tending a plot next to the pump how long he had to wait to get his prime location. "Twenty years," he said.
I began to hear storiesold Mr. Foss used to live in the white colonial just opposite the animal hospital; a pony club keeps a riding ring on the property; sled dogs train in the field and surrounding woods. I even heard a tale that at one point the field was an air strip. Such a place was bound to have history.
In July our tomatoes grew wondrously dark and thick; we harvested broccoli; peppers plumped. The untouched plot next to ours flowered with exotic weeds. Back in our forest garden in the backyard, beans cropped, as did shade-loving lettuce. Leggy tomatoes struggled toward an uncertain September harvest. Only our bees, free from the depredations of the Carlisle bear, gloried in the mix of sun and shadow at the edge of the deep woods.
A hundred and fifty years ago, the search for a real garden would have taken us along the Mohawk Trail and Erie Canal, west to Ohio or Indiana. Now, a five minute ride brings us to Carlisle's own version of the Midwest. We're home for supper.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito