Friday, February 4, 2000
More Carlisle students boost high school costs
A big leap in the number of Carlisle students at Concord-Carlisle High School and in the size of the school overall could very likely result in an unusually large (17-19 percent) increase in what the town has to pay next year. Moreover, since Carlisle's budget guidelines were set without regard to Concord's, nearly $200,000 (or more) of this increase is not yet accounted for in the budget FinCom has prepared to present at Town Meeting.
As of last October, 37 (or 9.1 percent) more Carlisle students were attending the high school than the year before, raising the town's proportion of school expenses from 24.32 percent this year to 26.53 percent for next year. The amount that Concord and Carlisle pay toward high school expenses is determined, in part, by this "assessment ratio," which fluctuates yearly depending on the proportion of students from each town.
The town's proportional increase has been compounded by an accompanying bump of 8.3 percent in total enrollment at the high school, meaning that Carlisle has to pay more of the cost to serve more students next year. To meet this higher demand, the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee has proposed an operating budget (with debt payments excluded) that would boost the total cost to run the school by 8.7 percent, but raise Carlisle's assessment (again, excluding debt payments) by 19 percent, or $440,700. According to Concord-Carlisle Superintendent Edward Mavragis and director of management services Gerald Missal, much of this increase was driven by the higher number of students, particularly hiring the full-time equivalent (FTE) of over five additional teachers. (The table on this page.) provides specific information on the CCRSD budget request based on data provided by at the Carlisle FinCom's January 26 hearing.)
$190K to $220K gap between Carlisle and Concord guidelines
In an unusual move, the Concord FinCom proposed two guidelines for the FY01 high school budget last December. These Concord guidelines would allow an 8.2 percent budget increase if an override passes and, without an override, an increase of 7.4 percent. However, again due to the much higher proportion of students from Carlisle, the town's assessment for the requested budgets would rise precipitously (by 18.4 percent, and 17.3 percent respectively).
Unaware of the Concord FinCom's decision, in December the Carlisle FinCom set a much lower guideline of a 9 percent increase in Carlisle's assessment, resulting in an increase of less than 1 percent in the total high school operating budget. As a result, it is probable that the town will have to pay at least $193,113 and as much as $232,196 more than currently provided in the FinCom's no-override budget.
Two-Town Meeting possible
How the difference between this level and the other guidelines can be resolved was the subject of much discussion at the FinCom's January 26 meeting. If, in the end, the two Town Meetings approve different budgets for the regional school, a joint Town Meeting, involving registered voters from both towns, would decide the budget, according to the regional agreement governing operation of the district. Since Concord, with more than three times as many registered voters, would be most likely to prevail at such a meeting, Carlisle FinComs have historically sought other strategies to lower the assessment.
What if an override fails?
A Proposition 2-1/2 ballot override for the CCHS assessment would be one possibility, but FinCom members repeatedly told school district officials of their worry that an override would not succeed following this year's 14 percent tax increase. (See override article on page 1), Such failure could have unattractive consequences, since the town would still have to pay the assessment. Town officials could then call for another override vote; or, at a special Town Meeting, ask voters to transfer funds from the town's free cash; or ask voters to reduce other town budgets to pay the assessment.
Concord no-override guideline?
Carlisle's initial guideline is not realistic given enrollment increases, and should be revised, FinCom member Tom Bilotta suggested. He observed that since Concord will face an override vote for its elementary and middle school budgets, both communities would be better served by adopting the Concord no-override guideline for the high school. This 7.4 percent overall increase would require the high school to cut $147,316 from its request, which Bilotta suggested could be in part accomplished by increasing sports user fees. (The table above shows what school officials indicated would be cut from the requested budget to achieve the Concord guidelines.)
Essentially, the Concord no-override budget would add about five teaching positions and allow for salary increases for teachers, administrators and others; drop proposed new maintenance, security positions, added clerical hours, some professional development and consulting contracts; postpone the resurfacing of the driveway; and reduce athletic subsidies.
Smooth out the swings?
The issues raised by the gap between the Concord and Carlisle guidelines are likely to continue if, as projected, both the total number and the number of Carlisle students continue to grow. Estimates provided by Missal show this upward trend continuing for at least three more years, with another increase of 7.8 percent in Carlisle's assessment ratio expected next year.
The Concord FinCom are concerned about the instability in the high school budget due to such swings in costs to Carlisle. Thus, they might be more sympathetic than in the past to adopting a three-year rolling average in the assessment ratio, Missal suggested. Thus, by basing each year's assessment ratio on the average percent of students of the past three years, the rolling average method "smooths" dramatic increases and decreases in assessments, spreading peaks and valleys over a longer period of time. Under such a system, the eventual payments would be about the same, but changes in assessments would be less drastic and more predictable, members agreed.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito