The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 14, 2002

News Flash

Regional School Committee Tries to Avoid Override for High School

What looked like a simple Special Town Meeting on Monday, with only two articles to move, may get more complicated thanks to amendments from the floor by the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC). At the selectmen's meeting June 13, the RSC once again attempted, without success, to enlist selectmen support for fully funding Carlisle's portion of the high school assessment outside the $75,000 override.

RSC member Mike Fitzgerald proposed an amendment to the motion for Article 2 of the Warrant removing the stipulation that the appropriation "shall not take effect unless the Town votes by ballot to allow the town to assess this amount as additional real estate and personal property tax." Under this scenario, if Article 2 were to pass at the Carlisle Special Town Meeting on Monday, the high school would be funded and an unbalanced budget would go forward to the town election. If the override were to fail at the election, a joint Town Meeting with Concord would not be necessary. However, Carlisle would need to call a second Special Town Meeting to determine where cuts would be made.

Fitzgerald pointed out the need to resolve the high school budget issues before July 1 to have time to "get the school ready" for the upcoming school year. In addition, the potential for a joint Town Meeting means a "15,000 to $20,000 cost" for setting up equipment at the high school, money that would not be saved even if the override passes the election, since the results will come in too late to cancel contracts.

Fitzgerald also argued the outcome of a joint Town Meeting is more-or-less preordained because the overwhelming Concord vote "will prevail." He noted Concord voters are getting angry ("Very angry," echoed RSC chair Betsy Bilodeau) at the delay Carlisle is causing in resolving this issue and that at a joint Town Meeting "we won't be holding hands and singing 'Kumbaya.'" He urged the selectmen to "save it (the joint Town Meeting) for a really significant, serious issue . . it's not worth going to for $75,000."

Several arguments were entered against the RSC amendment. Town administrator Madonna McKenzie noted a second Carlisle Special Town Meeting "could vote to cut the high school budget again, forcing a joint Town Meeting in late July." This would be an even worse-case scenario for the high school.

Town Councel Paul DeRensis also cautioned that in his experience across the state "School overrides tend to pass eventually; salary overrides almost never do. If you want the override to pass, you need to think about how voters will approach it." Echoed David Trask of the FinCom, "If you tell voters the school will be funded regardless of the override, why would they vote for this?"

Trask also was concerned with the possibility of a legal challenge if the override fails. The ballot wording says the override is "for the purpose of providing additional operating funds for the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District." DeRensis pronounced the RSC amendment legal, where a previous attempt to fund the high school outside the override was not. However Trask remained concerned, "It seems to me we're headed for trouble. Effectively you've eliminated the override need, and that's not fair to the voters."

Selectman Doug Stevenson took issue with Fitzgerald's contention that the RSC amendment would introduce "simplicity." Calling the already-approved motions "perfectly logical and straightforward," Stevenson noted that confusion would likely result from "changing our approach less than four days before Town Meeting."

McKenzie added, "Townspeople are expecting to vote on an override for the high school." Noting that there is a high expectation the override will pass as is (in which case the budget is resolved without further ado), she noted the possibility of angering some people, who might then vote the override down. "I don't think we should make any group of individuals feel they are being eliminated from the process."

Without the support of the Carlisle selectmen, the two representatives of the RSC promised to bring the amendment to the floor of the Special Town Meeting anyway. They also warned other amendments may be forthcoming. In closing, selectman Vivian Chaput entreated them, "Don't propose something that makes more of a problem," and derails the simplest solution - passage of the $75,000 override for the high school.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito