The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 28, 2000


School tells FinCom: 6 percent guideline would mean larger classes

To sustain existing programs, provide mandated special education services and accommodate enrollment growth for FY01, the Carlisle Public Schools will need $258,803 more than the 6 percent guideline allotted, the school committee told the finance committee at a January 19 budget hearing. Superintendent DavidaFox-Melanson told the FinCom that although "we understand the town's budget constraints, we couldn't conform to [the guideline]" and provide the same level of service at the school.

According to figures submitted by the school, after providing for rises in costs for mandated special education and transportation, only $84,050 would be available to cover contractual obligations for salary and other increases of at least $285,616:

Increase under guideline 346,285

Minus mandated expenses 216,254

Total available 130,031

Other required costs 45,981

Available for other increases 84,050

To continue providing the present level of service, Fox-Melanson and the school committee told the FinCom, a 10.5 percent increase is necessary.

Referring to the salary increases that make up the bulk of the requested $605,088, CSC chair David Dockterman said, "Most of this budget is peopleit's kids and teachers...and not a lot of extra stuff." Of the proposed increase, nearly half would be spent on increases in teacher salaries, with another 11 percent for other instructional and special education salaries, and 6 percent for increases for administrative and custodial staff. An additional 11 percent would pay for tuition and transportation costs for additional special education placements outside the school. (The table on page 11summarizes the main increases in the school's budget categories.)

But how will the town pay?

FinCom chair Tony Allison responded by asking rhetorically, "But how are we going to pay for all this?" He noted that the town's "balanced" budget based on FinCom's December guidelines now shows a deficit of nearly $600,000. Even with no operating budget overrides, the committee projects an 8-10 percent increase in the tax rate, primarily due to anticipated borrowing for projects already approved but not yet bonded (primarily the Gleason Library renovation, Wang-Coombs land purchase, and fire truck).

An override would surely be required to fund the school committee's request and FinCom members are concerned that an override might not pass given the recent tax rate increase. "Personally, I think [the school] is the most important priority for the town," Allison said. However, he noted, if this request were added to last spring's substantial override, the school budget would rise an "unsustainable" 25 percent over a two-year period. "Without an increase in revenues,...the arithmetic doesn't work," Allison concluded.

FinCom member Nina Ostrom argued that the committee should calculate what a more "rational" guideline increase "should" be, in a more favorable situation. For several years in the past, FinCom used an algorithm developed by member Tom Bilotta to estimate how much increase would be required to allow the school to keep pace with inflation and changing demand for school services. Starting with a base budget which excludes the costs for mandated special education outside the Carlisle School, "Tom's model" increases that base by two multipliers: the change in the Consumer Price Index and the enrollment growth as of October 1. Then, estimated costs for outside SPED costs are added back to the increased base budget. The FinCom's aim in using the formula has been to approximate the minimum the school needs to keep up current services, ignoring the detail of decisions the school committee makes in managing the funds, such as teacher salary increases or programming changes.

The committee should compute this "model" for FY01, as the basis to argue with selectmen and others about what a "rational" budget increase would be, given more revenues, Ostrom suggested. Without doing the calculations, Bilotta estimated that the "model" increase would be about 8 percent. However, "we also have to worry about the tax rate impact" of such an increase, he cautioned Ostrom. The Mosquito has calculated the increase according to Bilotta's formula as $497,031, or about 9.1 percent over the FY00 budget, using 3 percent for inflation, 4.7 percent for enrollment growth, and out-of-district special education costs provided in the school committee budget document.

Reduce CCHS assessment?

FinCom members Bilotta and Charles Parker repeatedly urged school committee members to persuade the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee and Concord FinCom to reduce the 18 percent increase in Carlisle's assessment by cutting the high school budget.

However, even a small cut in Carlisle's assessment would result in a budget reduction four times that size in the CCHS budget due to the lopsided ratio of the two towns' assessments, regional school committee member Cindy Nock reminded them. Nock suggested that the Carlisle FinCom could influence CCHS budget decisions as they are made by attending regional school committee meetings.

More state funds for SPED?

Part of the solution to the budget constraints would be for the town to pressure the state legislature to increase reimbursement for special education expenses, which are now 35 percent of the school's instructional budget, Parker insisted. "The amount we get back from the state is out of proportion compared with other parts of country," he said, noting that some states provide as much as 50 percent, while Massachusetts reimburses less than 20 percent of special education costs.

Sell land?

Parker also mentioned that FinCom had been discussing recommending to the selectmen that "we do something drastic," such as selling land to pay for increased operating budget needs. Nock questioned how that process would work, adding that Carlisle should be trying to increase operating revenues by working with other communities to pressure legislators for more equitable distribution of state aid.

Staff reductions, larger classes

School business manager Eileen Riley detailed the budget request, including the cuts that would be required to meet the 6 percent guideline. She and Fox-Melanson estimated that four to five teachers and three instructional aides would be cut, increasing class sizes to 25 to 28 in the lower grades and 28 to 29 for third grade and above. (See details on page 11 chart)

Riley and Fox-Melanson pointed out that, since unemployment compensation for teachers could cost as much as $12-13,000 each, the actual savings to the town would be much lower than reflected in the school budget. Further, they warned that such reductions could result in higher special education costs, if parents dissatisfied with larger classes seek special services.

Charge for bus service?

Another possible reduction in the school budget would involve cuts or charges for bus services. The proposed 10.5 percent budget increase includes an "optimistic" estimated increase of 7 percent, or $20,602, in the school's current $294,000 contract with a private bus company. (The contract will be re-bid in the spring.)

By state law, the school is required to pay for bus services only for students living more than 1.5 miles from the campus (about half the students). In theory, over $150,000 could be saved by eliminating service to those students or by charging for the service within that 1.5 miles. However, Fox-Melanson and Riley cited the negative experience of nearby towns and worries about children's safety, in the absence of sidewalks or paths.

Payments for Grant Building

Riley had one item of "good news" for the FinCom at the hearing: the state has notified the town that annual payments of $137,807 for partial reimbursement of the Grant Building expenses will begin next year. This payment will moderate the anticipated tax rate hike, but does not make any more money available to pay for school operations, FinCom told the school committee. Instead, the state funds reduce the taxes raised to pay the town's long-term debt payments, which are expected to jump over $400,000 in FY01 as the library, Wang-Coombs land and other projects are bonded.

Per Pupil Costs

The Carlisle School Committee presented a table comparing the reported FY99 cost per pupil for some nearby school systems. Carlisle is not "out of the box," in this group, in the words of chair David Dockterman. Though Carlisle's costs per pupil are about $1,000 above the median cost of $5,900, six towns (Weston, Lexington, Wellesley, Bedford, Westford and Concord) report higher per student costs than Carlisle. Eight towns report lower costs than Carlisle, with Boxborough the lowest at $4,090.

Other funding needs

The Carlisle School Committee also described funding needs excluded from their operating budget proposal for next year (FY01):

· $15,000 study possible new building

· Part of town's capital requests: $25,000 ten computers, $5,000 lockers and furniture, $15,000 repair parking, sidewalks, $10,000 Brick Building ADA-compliant

$13,000 replace cafeteria furniture

· Other funding needs: 4,892 part-time network administrator (grant funds will be sought)

· New programs being studied: $11,761 Expand K to full day,$6,000 Keyboarding training, $8,978 Expand choral music/drama, Strings instruction (no $ amount)

$11,042 Expand foreign language, $25,000 Maintenance projects, $50,000 Expand Carlisle Castle area

Given recent power failures at the school and concern that the town has no facility to house citizens in a power emergency, the school committee will also recommend that the town consider funding an emergency power generator and associated wiring costs for the Corey Building.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito