Friday, December 15, 2000
On the surface the neat columns of figures in the draft version of the FY '02 school budget seem straight forward and uncomplicated. However, as Business Manager Eileen Riley made her presentation to the Carlisle School Committee on December 5, it became apparent that difficult decisions had been made, balancing cost and quality of instruction.
The FY02 budget is driven by mandated and contractual programs, as well as an enrollment increase estimated to be 4.1 percent. The section under "regular education" instructional services includes costs formerly subsidized by kindergarten and activity fees. It also includes teaching salaries under the terms of the current contract as well as contracted and mandated professional development opportunities.
Pointing out one of the more difficult trade-offs, Superintendent Fox-Melanson said that the numbers in the fifth grade class represent "a bulge in the system." Next year the 100 students now divided in five sections will be entering sixth grade in the middle school. Currently middle school teachers teach four sections each in their area of expertise- language arts, math, foreign language, science and social studies. If the class enters with five sections the current system and scheduling will be upset. Rather than reconfigure the instructional time of the whole grade, the decision was made to divide the group into four larger classes, adding "classroom assistants." The hiring of four aides or assistants for the class will ensure the quality of the teaching program in spite of the increased number of students.
"The fifth-grade teachers and the administration have agonized over this decision," Fox-Melanson said. "It is important to keep the student-teacher ratio favorable, a key element to the Carlisle student's academic success. This class is a bulge in the system and the numbers in the lower grades will return to more manageable numbers for several years. We have not come out with a better solution. We can't dismantle the middle school experience."
The FY02 budget includes hiring additional reading support in grades one through four. Hiring a reading specialist for the younger grades is cost effective as it results in a decreasing number of requests for special education services in the older grades. According to Fox-Melanson this budgetary item is considered proactive and preventive, especially when there is a tightening of special education laws.
Maintenance vs. capital improvements
The School Committee questioned the amount of $25,000 for campus maintenance and improvements. CSC members debated how much is needed for the equipment and maintenance and what should be part of the town's long- term capital improvement list voted separately by town meeting. For example, repairs such as the replacement of the Wilkins Building corridor floor tile and the refurbishing of the school's older buildings and campus to be compliant with the American Disabilities Act are considered long-term capital expenditures. These items will be budgeted under a separate category out of the school budget and voted on at town meeting.
Routine campus maintenance has been level-funded. However, each year there are surprise expenses, such as the need to rehabilitate the Carlisle Castle playground which was declared unsafe in its present condition. Expenses connected to the bus contract will also increase due to the escalation of trip mileage and fuel costs.
The school committee also questioned whether there should be a special budget item for the development and maintenance of media equipment and technology. At this time technology services have been placed in other budget categories, such as instructional supplies.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito