Friday, May 31, 2002
CCHS gives Carlisle a break
With a collective intake of breath, the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) faced the nitty-gritty of the high school budget on Tuesday evening. Betsy Bilodeau, new chairman of the RSC, described the action items on the agenda as part of "the legal process that is in place for those regional school districts which do not have agreement about a school budget." Carlisle selectmen have 45 days to transfer or allocate monies to fund the budget submitted to them by the regional school committee. If by that time Carlisle does not meet the assessed amount, said Bilodeau, the RSC can call a joint Town Meeting to craft a budget to be decided by voters of both towns.
The Concord-Carlisle mismatch
Earlier this month voters in Concord and Carlisle could not agree on a budget for Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) for the fiscal year 2003. Concord passed two overrides, the "Concord selectmen budget" which proposed a 7% increase over FY02, and the "Concord FinCom budget" which recommended an increase of 5.6%. In order to match Concord, Carlisle would need to raise an additional $91,193 to match the 7% Concord FinCom budget, or $138,492 to match the 5.6% Concord selectmen's budget.
Selectmen vote $91K for CCHS
Carlisle selectmen announced at their meeting on May 21 that FY03 revenues will be about $150,000 higher than expected. However, they voted to allocate $136,000 to what was termed a much needed and modest 2% town employee wage increase, leaving approximately $16,000 toward Carlisle's share of the high school budget. In addition, the selectmen proposed a new override of $75,000 to meet the lower Concord FinCom funding level of $91,000. To bring the budget up to the level chosen by Concord voters, Carlisle would need to contribute $138,492.
Board of selectmen chair John Ballantine attended the joint school committee meeting and was asked to comment. With wry understatement he said, "It has been a lively period in the last two weeks in Carlisle." He pointed out that the selectmen will meet again on Tuesday, June 4. By that time they should have a more accurate estimate of anticipated revenues for FY03. A Special Town Meeting in Carlisle has been set for June17.
"The town is in a terrible bind..."
Ballantine added, "We are looking under all the seat cushions, in all areas to find funding to meet our obligation to the high school." Ballantine and Carlisle's new RSC representatives Nicole Burkel and Michael Fitzgerald pointed out that Carlisle's voters have made clear their feelings about increased taxes. Ballantine continued, "We have that proverbial rainy day now. The town is in a terrible bind and any good faith gestures by the regional school committee to reduce our financial obligation, as a way to support us through these difficult times, would be noted and greatly appreciated by the selectmen and the town of Carlisle."
CCHS superintendent Ed Mavragis pointed out that 40 unanticipated enrollments for next year (22 in the freshman class alone) would already require cuts to the budget voted by Concord, implying there was no fat to trim in the current budget. Bilodeau suggested that although the RSC was not willing to cut back services to the lower budget level, it may be possible to transfer some amount out of the Excess and Deficiency Fund (E&D), as a show of good will and to narrow the gap for Carlisle. Approximately $100,000 is already being funneled out of E&D to meet the larger enrollment and other shortfalls. The risk to bond ratings is important to consider before depleting the fund further, especially since construction/renovations at the high school are anticipated in the not too distant future. RSC member Lauren Walters noted, "If we use E&D funds this year and then next year we have a level-service budget again, we will be compounding the deficits of that fund, which could lead to further taxation."
New Concord RSC representative Becky Shannon implied that this option only postponed the inevitable when she asked, "What would make next year any less rainy?" Fitzgerald responded that they do anticipate a drop in Carlisle's share of enrollment at the high school next year, which could ease assessment pains next year.
Like a verbal fencing match, Concord and Carlisle members parried examples of past years when the one town requested a lower budget and the other deferred to the town in need. Then in a vote of five to two, as a good-faith gesture, a motion was passed to withdraw $46,000 from the E&D fund which will have the effect of reducing Carlisle's shortfall by 10%, or from more than $138,000 to about $125,000.
A second motion was passed to post notice for a joint Town Meeting for June 27 to meet the 14-day notification requirement. This is the last possible moment to come up with an agreed-upon budget by July 1 so that the high school does not have to limp along on a contingency basis. A joint Town Meeting would only occur if Carlisle fails to resolve the funding issue by that time. All RSC members expressed sincere hope that such a meeting will not be necessary. Aside from the potential cost in rancor between the towns, the cost to run the meeting is estimated at approximately $15,000.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito