Friday, June 7, 2002
Selectmen try to avoid Concord-Carlisle show-down
Carlisle to fund CCHS budget before funding raises for town employees
The front row filled with Concord selectmen, Moderator, regional school committee members, and Carlisle Moderator Sarah Brophy, Carlisle's Board of Selectmen agreed at their June 4 meeting on a strategy to try to solve two problems that result from the recently approved no-override or "balanced" budget.
That budget provided no money for raises for nonschool employees next year, and $138,000 less than what would be required for Carlisle to match the CCHS funding level approved by Concord voters.
Selectmen hope the current plan, adopted by a three to one margin, will
avoid an unprecedented joint Town Meeting with Concord. This "district" meeting, currently scheduled for June 27 (one day after Carlisle votes on a proposition 2 1/2 override question nominally for high school funding ), would be required if Carlisle refuses to fund the budget voted in Concord. Selectmen directed town administrator Madonna McKenzie to structure the motions for the upcoming Special Town Meeting June 17 so that newly anticipated revenues would be used first to fund Carlisle's assessment for CCHS at the Concord level. Available revenue in excess of that would be distributed to the town departments.
The $75,000 override, if approved, would be added to funds to provide a total of $136,000 for contractual increases for police officers, 2.5% cost-of-living raises for town employees, and begin the implementation of additional raises recommended by the town's wage and classification study, .
Since Carlisle's Spring Town Meeting, the regional school committee has declined to reduce the high school budget. However, they did agree to use about $46,000 of the regional school district's "excess & deficiency" (reserve) fund toward the FY03 high school budget, thereby lowering Carlisle's shortfall from $138,000 to about $125,000. Betsy Bilodeau, chair of the regional school committee, said that the requested budget does not include new programs, and the 7% increase over level-funding must cover a jump in enrollment (an additional 100 students) over what was expected when adopted.
$181,000 more expected
Much of the debate at the meeting revolved around whether to allocate the "found money" developed from revisions of revenue estimates to wage increases for nonschool town workers or the high school assessment.
At their May 21 meeting the selectmen concluded that the town would receive at least $127,000 more revenue than had been expected before the May Town Meeting. A reduction in a bill for the town's share of an EPA settlement and money unspent for water studies on the O'Rourke land would raise the additional funds available to $150,000. Since then, town officials have learned from legislators that at least $31,000 more can be expected from the state. (For details, see "Where did this 'new' money come from," in the May 24 Mosquito.)
On May 21 the selectmen also opened the warrant for the Special Town Meeting, scheduled June 17, referring only to "available funds," with specific amounts to be determined after revenue projections had been reevaluated. (The warrant articles and override question are reprinted below.) Though the language in question 1 might suggest that the high school would lose $75,000 in funding if the override fails, that is not in fact the selectmen's current plan.
Instead, they have decided on "contingency" motions at Town Meeting, allocating funds one way if the question 1 override passes, differently if it fails. The effect would be to fully fund the high school independent of the override. To accomplish this, the motion under Article 1 will be in two parts. The town will vote on allocating an additional $131,000 for town departments if the override passes, but only $55,000 if the override fails. This will avoid the need for a joint Concord-Carlisle Town Meeting if Carlisle's upcoming override fails, unless Carlisle voters refuse any additional funding for the high school by defeating Article 2.
Play by play
About 45 people were in the audience, with representatives from many town committees, including both Concord and Carlisle finance committees. Deb Berlanger, member of Carlisle's long term capital requirements committee,urged support for town employees' salary increases.
Michael Fitzgerald, Carlisle representative on the regional school committee, pointed out that the board of selectmen have the authority to grant salary increases within the currently voted budget. Selectman John Ballantine said that was not practical: "There aren't many paper clips in the budget." Town services would have to be cut to fully fund higher salaries without the $75,000 override.
The majority who spoke wanted to avoid a joint Town Meeting, which would cost approximately $15,000 and where Carlisle voters will be outnumbered 3 1/2 to 1 in what RSC Chair Betsy Bilodeau predicted "will be a fight.."
Selectman Doug Stevenson favored giving priority to town employees over the high school, even if it meant a joint Town Meeting. Selectman Carol Peters had misgivings about funding a 7% increase in the high school budget, when town employees are threatened with a wage freeze. Selectman Tim Hult said there was an issue of basic fairness a group of relatively low-paid people getting no raises, where another group of people are getting "fairly substantial" raises. Peters also mentioned the high average salary of the high school teachers. Concord-Carlisle regional school district superintendent Ed Mavragis said that the average salary was not $66,000, as listed on the Department of Education web site, but about $59,000 in fiscal 2001.
Planning board member Michael Epstein asked the selectmen to show leadership and try to avoid a joint town meeting. Epstein had helped work on the town's wage and classification study, and he said, "I am very disappointed and embarrassed" by what the voters did at the ballot box. He said that the town can support the employees by voting for the override, but he thought declining to fully fund the high school budget was a bad idea."We have obligations to the regional school system.We're not really talking about a lot of money."
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito