Friday, May 5, 2000
Parents and facility users object to Carlisle School plan for fees
Even if the override passes, the Carlisle Public School has proposed making up a $58,800 budget shortfall for fiscal year 2001 by instituting new fees to be charged to parents for bus transportation, band, math league, yearbook, student council, and intramural sports. Fees already in place for team sports would remain as they are. Facility use fees would also be increased for adult users. The $1,000 subsidy for school lunches would be eliminated and some support staff hours reduced.
A funding gap
About 15 residents attended a hearing on April 25 at which school officials outlined the details of their plan and listened to the concerns of parents and other facility users. School business manager Eileen Riley explained that the level of funding supported by the selectmen and finance committee would not result in a level service budget. Although the FinCom increased the school guideline and is supporting $80,000 more in an override, the budget shortfall of $58,800 would need to be met either by cutting programs and people, or by adding fees. The school does not want to cut programs, Riley said, so they are proposing the fee option.
There was a general consensus among the audience that they would like to hear these issues discussed at Town Meeting and have the opportunity to vote on whether to add fees, cut programs, or raise the money some other way to fund the budget shortfall. The school committee said they had agreed not to ask for the additional money at Town Meeting so that the selectmen and FinCom would support the rest of the budget. However, that did not stop one parent from asking Town Meeting for the additional funds (See page 1).
The proposed fee structure
The bus fee of $50 per student per year would apply to all students living within two miles of the school and to all seventh- and eighth-graders. State law requires free bus service only for students in grades K-6 who live farther than two miles from school.
Activity fees of $25 per student per activity would apply to students in the junior and senior bands and participants in the other mentioned activities, primarily students in grades 5 through 8. To prevent the fees from becoming too burdensome, a family cap of $500, including the $130 per student per sport fee, was also proposed.
The facility use fee is currently charged to local non-profit groups, the biggest user being the Savoyard Light Opera Company. The fee is not charged to school-affiliated or town-affiliated groups. The new proposal would raise the fees, generally by $5 per hour, and add fees for adult town-affiliated groups, such as men's basketball and adult recreation commission programs. The fee would not be applied to programs for children. Supervisor of buildings and grounds David Flannery explained that the fees have not been increased since they were started in 1989. The fees currently collected do not cover the expenses of having these groups use the facility, he said.
School committee member Cindy Nock asked whether the number of busses could be reduced if many people chose not to pay the bus fee. Riley said that the new bus contract was written to allow that, but school officials would not like to see that happen, she said, citing safety concerns for children walking. Chair David Dockterman also envisioned a giant traffic jam if many more children were driven to and from school.
A tough choice
Dockterman said that the school committee is not happy with the choice of cutting programs or charging fees. Others in town, including the selectmen and FinCom, seem to support user fees so that people with children in school pay more, rather than spreading the cost out over the entire town, he added.
Parent Bob Fidler started the public comments saying that he is opposed to user fees and would rather pay more in taxes that would be deductible.
Parent and recreation commission member Maureen Tarca agreed with Fidler, adding that she would like to see the question of fees or the option of funding the $58,800 through taxes come up for a vote at Town Meeting.
Speaking next, parent Carolynn Luby urged those assembled to remember the idea of free public education. She went on to enumerate the many things that parents already pay extra for at the school including athletics, field trips, sixth-grade outdoor education, the eighth-grade Quebec trip, Carlisle School Association dues and sales that support the school, and $20 to $25 of school supplies at the beginning of each school year. She estimated that parents pay a total of $2,000 extra from kindergarten through eighth grade for each student now, before any new fees are added. This estimate is for a student who plays one sport a year. Adding bus fees, band fees and activity fees would increase that by about 30 percent, she said. She was also concerned that the new fees would continue for years.
Traffic and parking
Luby brought up the issue of traffic and parking again, if people choose not to pay the bus fee. Member Harry Crowther explained that the fee was modest. "We are permitted to charge up to the actual cost of the bus," he said. The proposed $50 fee is not anywhere near that much, he added. Crowther and Dockterman both reiterated that they do not want kids walking or parents driving.
Resident and Savoyard treasurer Scott Henderson said that the program at the school has been expanded in recent years and that the CSC should consider cutting programs instead of increasing fees. Explaining that the Savoyard Light Opera Company stages an annual production in the Corey Auditorium, he said that the proposed fee increases would add about $500 more per year to their expenses. They are already losing money on the performances and relying on contributions to make up the deficit, he said. Dockterman responded that it would be great if it were not the school's job to mediate these community uses.
Parent Kathy Schweer was concerned about arts education not being supported. "Band is during the school day. How can we charge for that?" she asked. "Next will we charge for language arts, too?" As fees are added, she sees a two-tier system developing in the arts, she said, the "haves and have-nots."
Dockterman agreed that if parents must pay for a program, then it becomes a private school. He asked rhetorically, "What quality of school and set of services do people want, and what are they willing to pay for?" He added, "People need to voice their opinions." He suggested that people with concerns make their feelings known to the selectmen.
Speaking for the recreation commission, Carol Peters said that she was concerned about a facility use fee for community use. She said that if fees go up, some in the community would not be able to keep participating. She said that she thinks it is in the best interest of the town to make school buildings more available and maximize its use. That way, the town won't need to build a new community center, she said.
Resident Brian Anderson asked whether there would be costs associated with collecting and accounting for the fees. Riley responded that she hoped it wouldn't cost much. Anderson continued, noting that the men's basketball group currently makes voluntary contributions toward use of the gym, even though a fee is not now required. He was concerned that some people would have to drop out if the fee were raised. Peters noted that the RecCom currently donates equipment to the school.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito