Friday, March 8, 2002
Carlisle School considers painful budget cuts
Feelings were strong about the proposed FY03 school budget at the March 5 school committee meeting -- strong enough to elevate the temperature in the packed Spalding Conference Room to an uncomfortable level. The discomfort with the Carlisle Finance Committee's guideline of a 5-6% increase over the FY02 budget was also evident in the passion and determination with which superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson, the school administration and the school committee (CSC) tried to salvage programs that may have to be cut. The CSC has proposed a 10.77% increase to provide level services. Approximately twenty citizens in the audience, which included past selectman Michael Fitzgerald and past school committee member Tim Morse, shared the school's concern.
CSC member David Dockterman summarized the challenge, "There is a $600,000 - 700,000 gap between what the school needs for level services and the recommendation of the finance committee." Carlisle School Business Manager Eileen Riley pointed out that 80% of the budget is salaries, mandated costs of special education, bus services and the teacher contract. In addition, more than a classroom of new students have entered each year for the past several years. Four new students entered this month alone.
Agonizing over cuts
Searching for cuts in the operating budget, school officials provided a few options. Cuts to existing positions and programs include:
· Closing the school library ($62,906)
· Cutting back the kindergarten program ($47,279) to a half-day double session model.
· Eliminating the physical education/health teacher for the fifth grade, the four middle school teacher assistants, the 1.5 support staff positions and the guidance department guidance and testing supplies ($137,753).
Additional savings from the proposed 10.77% budget, include cutting new personnel, maintenance, and other line items that were deemed necessary to provide level services to a larger student body, amounting to $121,029. These include:
· mentor stipends for new teacher training
· 0.2 music teacher
· 0.6 speech and language/assistive technology teacher
· a reading specialist
· special campus maintenance, such as the request for corrosion control in the school water system, the replacement of educational equipment such as broken desks and computer equipment.
Searching for possible new revenues, Doctorman again brought up the idea of fees for bus service and kindergarten, which had been charged and discontinued in the recent past. Fox-Melanson said that legally the school is not responsible for busing students from grades 7&8 but "safety on the streets of Carlisle is a real issue." CSC member Paul Morrison said, "The fees requested for the services didn't really raise that much money and townspeople hated them."
Large override inevitable
All of the above cuts add up to savings of $368,967. This still leaves the proposed FY03 budget considerably above the FinCom guideline, which would require an override of the Proposition-2-1/2 levy limit at Town Meeting and in town elections. CSC member Cindy Nock pointed out, "If we have no override and are forced to stick with the town levy at a 2-1/2 percent increase, then class sizes would increase and we would have to renegotiate with the teachers."
General consensus among school committee members was that before this happened the issue should be put before the voters. Fox-Melanson said, "If people expect a world class education the townspeople should be given the choice. Let them decide about the level of override."
A number of parents and residents were present to make statements and ask questions. Lisa Harris expressed her opinion that the library and the four sixth-grade aides were extremely important to the school. This grade of 104 students has 26 or 27 in each of its four sections. She also advocated for the full-day kindergarten and wondered whether there should be four or five sections of kindergarten next year. Superintendent Fox-Melanson said as of right now sixty-six children are enrolled for next year and more are expected.
Andy Gettys asked, " What are the meetings that interested parents need to attend to express an opinion?" Former selectman Michael Fitzgerald clarified that it is the selectmen's responsibility to place the budget on the ballot. Fox-Melanson pointed to selectmen's meeting on March 12 and 19. "This is a pivotal time. It is now or never."
Pat Simon empasized the importance of the kindergarten program. "It is a very important introduction for the children to the school." Sean Flynn pointed out that in a full kindergarten day there are 14 hours of teacher instruction per week. In the half day session there is only 7 hours of instruction, maybe less
Joan Konuk worried that the cuts would have "a horrible impact. It would be a loss that rolls out over time." CSC member Morrison said, "Maybe the town doesn't want one of the best systems in the state." CSC chair Whitney Smith commented, "We have a special system. People work together in the classrooms. We need to keep it going however we can."
Former school committee member Tim Morse said that 10 years ago when circumstances were similar he signed 15 pink slips. "There was apathy because people didn't think it would happen." Those in the audience were encouraged to motivate others to attend meetings and express their wishes.
Recommending an 8.5% increase
After deliberating for over an hour and listening to the comments of the parents and citizens at the meeting, the CSC voted unanimously on an amendment to the budget request for the FY03 school operating expenses. The total amount is $7,643,623, an 8.5% increase over last year's budget. Early teacher retirement costs of $131,534 are separate from the operating budget but are included in the entire school budget. Without the teacher retirement benefits the increase would be 6.83%.
The school committee reiterated that this is a responsible operating budget. It includes the full day kindergarten, the library, two teaching assistants and a reading specialist. The school committee is prepared to ask for several tiers of override levels at Town Meeting, leaving the decision in the hands of the people of Carlisle.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito