Friday, June 28, 2002
Carlisle School copes with cuts
Fundraising efforts help, but aren't enough
Since failure of both override levels at town elections in May, the Carlisle Public School has faced a significant challenge: how to manage a $237,000 reduction in the budget without significantly impacting the quality and character of the school. An impossible task? Perhaps, and certainly one requiring flexibility and creativity.
If there is any good news, it is the degree to which parents and students have rallied in support. In only four weeks, the Carlisle Education Foundation (CEF) Library Fund has raised enough to keep the school library open full-time, with funds to spare. The Carlisle School Association (CSA) has raised additional funds and is committed to maximizing the volunteer support at the school. And a group of energetic fourth graders have shown the town the meaning of community and commitment by raising $4,700 for the school with a carnival (see story page 8).
May override failure necessitates cuts
At a meeting May 21, the Carlisle School Committee voted to accept the verdict of the override failure and drop any attempts to gain more funds from the town for the Carlisle School. Member Paul Morrison noted at the time that, based on comments at Town Meeting, the school had become "a lightning rod for the town's dissatisfactions." Adds CSC member Mike Fitzgerald, "We felt voters had spoken rather firmly, and that the town needed to deal with other needs first, including the regional high school and town employees." At the time it was not known that the town's revenue shortfall would be softened by state aid inflows well above what had been projected.
Initially, cuts of $237,000 were proposed, in addition to the over $100,000 already cut from the original "level-service budget." Reductions in library hours, cuts in bus service, a severe reduction in technology spending, and loss of a second grade section were the most significant cuts proposed.
Since May, creative solutions have been implemented to reduce the originally proposed $237,000 in school cuts. For example, the afternoon kindergarten and seventh-and-eighth grade buses will be retained by charging fees $350 for kindergarten and $365 for seventh and eighth grade bus service. An unfortunate consequence of these fees may be a lower participation rate in these programs, resulting in some less-ready first graders and an increase in drop-off and pick-up traffic at the school. So far, 85% of affected parents have paid the kindergarten fee and 72% have paid the bus fee. Other originally-proposed cuts no longer required include $18,000 in technical support retained through a transfer from the capital account, approved at the Special Town Meeting June 17. In addition, the second-grade section will be retained by making cuts to a number of other budgets (see box).
CEF fundraising in full swing
Fund-raising efforts, most notably the CEF library fundraiser, have also helped soften the blow. By raising $75,000 in just four weeks, the CEF has allowed the school to retain a full-time librarian and to fund other programs as well. "We had some quite sizable donations," says CEF President Jeff Brown, "including some from people with no children in the schools." Brown expresses some disappointment at a relatively low overall participation rate, "People who can't donate much don't need to. I'd rather see everyone give $5 or $10 if that's all they can do." He also notes that some parents participated by attending the school fundraising carnival on June 19, or by giving volunteer hours. All in all, he says, "It's really gratifying to see support from such a broad range of people. I sense the community really coming together."
While pleased to be a part of this effort, Brown cautions there is a danger to funding budgetary items through fundraising. "If something deserves to be in the budget, it should be voted in," he says, not left reliant on fundraising, which is prone to volunteer burn-out and dependent on luck. As an example, the CEF for many years has funded computers and other technology at the school through its now-discontinued Pig 'n Pepper Festival, a burden it cannot continue to carry in the current crisis. "It doesn't look really good for technology," says Brown. "Now we're funding libraries and technology takes a back seat." He adds that the school "has not been up-to-snuff technology-wise, and this will set us back even more."
CSA emphasizes volunteerism, grants
While the CEF is the main fund-raising organization for the school, the CSA also provides grants, albeit of a smaller size. This year the CSA implemented a new school supplies fundraiser, and as a result, was able to grant $6,000 to the school above its usual teacher grants and cultural enrichment. (The program to be retained with the $6,000 has not yet been determined.) Other avenues for acquiring funds are also being pursued, including a booster CSA membership and corporate sponsorship of the Husky Handbook.
According to CSA president Debbie Dawson, "The CSA is not primarily a fundraising organization. I feel our most important service is recruiting and organizing the volunteers who donate thousands of hours to our school every year." She adds, "If we ever put a dollar amount on those indispensable volunteer hours, it would certainly run into the tens of thousands of dollars. This is a number you'll never see reflected in the school budget."
Dawson notes that efforts will be underway to increase volunteer support in the coming year. However, she notes, the CSA has already responded to past budget cuts by implementing parent playground/lunch volunteers and library volunteers, in addition to the room parent program which has long encouraged parent classroom participation. "On the playground alone we use over seventy parent volunteers," she says. Given that many parents work or have smaller children to tend, "I'm not sure how much more we can ask." One proposal is to extend outreach to the community, making it easier for non-parents to volunteer.
Cuts will hurt
The school and its fund-raising organizations are continuing to pursue grants and contributions. But the sad truth is, barring a major new development, substantial cuts will still have to be made, and programs will be affected. Says superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson, "I'm very grateful to the CEF for restoring the library funding, but I'm concerned about the less visible cuts." She points to curriculum coordination as one area where "effects won't be felt right away, but it's the kind of thing that once it starts to erode, the long-term impact will be significant."
She adds, "All the research tells us it's important for kids to form close relationships with the adults in their lives. By cutting student council, chorus, math league, and other programs, we're losing part of the richness of middle school life. These are the kinds of programs that keep kids involved and connected to their school. To me, that's not 'gilding the lily."
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito