The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 1, 2002

News

Carlisle and Concord far apart on FY03 CCHS budget

This year is shaping up as worth watching for longtime observers of negotiations between the towns of Concord and Carlisle as FY03 budget proposals for Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) multiply. Currently, there are seven suggested spending levels. The largest gap, between the operating budget the Carlisle Finance Committee voted to support last fall and what the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) requested at the FinCom's January 23 hearing, is nearly $1.3 million.

Why spending rises so fast

How much Concord and Carlisle each pay toward high school expenses is determined in part by an "assessment ratio," which depends on the number of students from each town. This ratio fluctuates yearly. As of October 2001, more Carlisle students (39, or 14.7% more) enrolled at CCHS than the year before, raising Carlisle's proportion of school expenses from 27.73% this year to 29.32% for next year.

In addition, total costs at the high school have been growing along with the student population. This, the rise in the assessment ratio for Carlisle is compounded by a bump of 7.9% in total enrollment at the high school this year and a projected increase of 2.5% next year. This continuing growth means that not only will Carlisle have to pay a larger share of the pie, but the pie is getting bigger each year.

The usual process

The process of deciding how much the high school can spend in any given year has always been somewhat ritualized, with the town of Concord taking the lead. In late September, the regional school committee proposes a budget to the Concord Finance Committee, which decides how much to allocate for schools in the Concord budget. Because the process for resolving a budget disagreement established in the regional agreement between the towns favors the larger of the two, Concord FinCom's guideline in effect has always set the budget level for both towns.

Somewhat later, usually in November or December, the Carlisle FinCom also sets a guideline for how much increase they can accommodate in the budget without requiring an override of Proposition 2-1/2. In January or February, during the Carlisle FinCom hearings, Carlisle leaders plead with the RSC and Concord officials to help Carlisle avoid an override for high school expenses. (In the past, Concord has been able to afford increases without overrides through rising state aid and/or transfers from abundant free cash, which several years ago reached 12% of operating expenses.) In response to Carlisle's appeal, the RSC often lowers their request by dropping planned spending, by increasing their estimate of state aid or other revenues, or by raising the amount to be transferred from the district's reserve (the "excess and deficiency fund").

Last year at the brink

Last year things changed in Concord, affecting the whole ritual. Concord struggled with developing several Proposition 2-1/2 overrides, to fund town and school operations and for a massive $76 million elementary and middle school re-construction project. Concord's free cash was no longer high, state aid was questionable for both towns and, according to Concord finance director Anthony Logalbo, growth in other non-property tax revenues (i.e. motor vehicles, interest earnings) had also slowed. Before last year only one Proposition 2-1/2 override had ever been put on the Concord ballot, and it had failed. Anxious leaders faced the task of resolving an impasse between the RSC and both towns, while developing a set of matching overrides. Ultimately, overrides passed in both towns, avoiding the need to hold a joint town meeting to hammer out budget amounts.

This year, towns start far apart

This year the challenges appear equally great. First, the Concord FinCom set a guideline of an increase of almost $900K in operating spending, unusual in that this would require an override to fund Concord's portion (in fact, overrides in both towns). Table 2 summarizes the changes, in amounts and percentages, that would result from seven possible levels of operating budget, and required overrides.

Then, the Carlisle FinCom set a guideline which would raise Carlisle's operating assessment by 5% ­ just under $160,000. However, given the effects of rising enrollment from Carlisle and the way town assessments are calculated, Carlisle's assessment must increase by a much higher percentage than the high school budget and the town of Concord's assessment. So an increase of 5% paid by Carlisle would, the Mosquito calculates, in fact reduce the operating budget for the high school by 0.7%, or about $90,000.

The massive RSC proposal

Thus, the two towns began the budget process nearly a million dollars ($900K plus $90K) apart. Then the budget presented by the regional school committee to the Carlisle FinCom last week widened the gap, proposing an increase in the operating budget almost $200,000 above Concord's and nearly $1.3 million above Carlisle's guideline. The school's proposal would increase spending by $1,180,000 over the current year, to serve a student body estimated to grow by 2.5%, to a census of 1,168. This level would add 8.7% to the operating budget, 16.9% to Carlisle's assessment, and would require overrides of about $373K in Carlisle and $416K in Concord.

What Concord might support

In presenting the proposed budget (Category C in Table 1), Concord-Carlisle Superintendent Edward Mavragis also outlined several less expensive options ("Category A" and "Category B"). Details on this spending are also in Table 1, and story. He sees potential support for overrides in Concord for the Category A, Category C, and Concord guideline budget levels. These overrides would raise the CCHS operating budget between 6.6% and 8.7%, Carlisle's assessment between 14.2% and 16.9%, and require an override in Carlisle of between $290K and $373K. Table 2 provides details.


2002 The Carlisle Mosquito