The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 27, 2001

News

What happens if towns disagree on CCHS budget?

Even if selectmen in both Concord and Carlisle support identical FY02 budgets for Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) and place identical overrides on the ballot for town elections, voters in the two towns could reject all overrides, or pass two different budget levels. What happens in that case? At a joint meeting on April 19 the leadership of both towns struggled to understand how such a nightmare scenario would be resolved.

Three players

“There are three players,” two towns and the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC), Carlisle town counsel Paul DeRensis observed. In order to resolve differences, not only the two towns but all three of these players must agree, he added. By giving the school committee the power to set budgets to which the towns must react, the law has “set up the school committee” to resolve this issue.

According to DeRensis and Concord town clerk Anita Tekle, who had consulted with state department of revenue on these procedures, a number of paths are possible. The RSC could solve the problem immediately by revising the budget to the lower of the two approved levels.

Alternatively, the RSC can revise and resubmit the budget to selectmen, finance committees and treasurers of the town approving the lower budget level. Within 45days of the first ballot vote, the selectmen of that town must call a Special Town Meeting to act on the revised regional budget. If this town meeting approves the revised budget, then a second override election is required in that town.

Joint “free for all” town meeting

If after this process one or both towns do not approve the revised amount, then the regional school committee may convene a Special Town Meeting, open to registered voters of both towns, with a moderator appointed by the boards of selectmen of the two towns in a joint meeting. A majority of those present at this joint special town meeting will approve a final budget, with no further override vote necessary.

DeRensis repeatedly admonished the assembled leaders that, for a “more rational” result, they should avoid such a meeting. A Dover resident, DeRensis experienced such a joint town meeting to set a budget for Dover-Sherborn Regional High School, which he called “so dreadful...a free-for-all.” The contest is settled by which town can pack more of its citizens into the meeting, and all voting is by a hand count, with “endless amendments and arguments,” he explained.

In the case where a joint town meeting approves the budget, the town meeting vote obligates both towns to pay their assessment, with no further elections. Proposition 2 1/2 limits are automatically overridden by the joint town meeting action, and the assessment beyond the levy limit is added to tax rate for one year only, making it possible for the entire process to be repeated the following year.

What will RSC do?

What the school committee might do if towns end up voting different numbers will depend on the range of difference, RSC chair Lauren Walters said in response to several questions throughout the meeting. “My guess is that the school committee would proceed through [the second election/joint town meeting] process” if the difference is “substantial” and the cuts required are “massive.” As that difference between the two towns “narrows,” it is “less likely” the school committee would do so, he added later.

Long range scenarios

If a basic budget is not approved prior to July 1 in either or both towns, the department of education will order the towns to appropriate not less than 1/12 of the total budget approved for the current (2001) fiscal year for each month until a budget is adopted.

If no agreement is reached by December 1, 2001, the state could take over.