Friday, June 28, 2002
What have we learned?
Since the $75K override passed this week, the FY03 town budget is now balanced and approved (except for minor tweaking at the Fall Town Meeting). Though few en-joyed this year's contentious budget cycle two Town Meetings, two override elections, multiple emergency board sessions the town learned something in the process.
The selectmen and finance committee learned that the decade of rubber-stamping their recommendations and approving every override are "so over." They also learned that any budget proposed to the voters, including the no-override levy-limit budget, must be carefully constructed, with spending priorities clearly established. We must be able to live with it.
The Carlisle School learned that a majority of town residents are willing to support an excellent school, but not a "Rolls Royce." Since the schools consume 2/3 of the town budget, they are the biggest targets for scrutiny and cuts. Voters are concerned about per-pupil costs and teacher salaries, which are rising faster than inflation and perhaps faster than those at comparable schools. Townspeople need to be convinced that the expenditures are unavoidable and have the opportunity to question class size, teacher salaries, bus fees, and whether the school administration is overstaffed. Simply mounting an aggressive campaign for higher funding offends many voters. On the positive side, the school was reassured that most Carlisle parents are very generous with their time and dollars. (See story on cuts and fundraising on page 1.)
It is not clear that the regional school committee or the Concord selectmen learned how to balance the needs and priorities of both towns with respect to the high school budget. A Concord-Carlisle Coordination Meeting held last week produced few tangible results, although a dialog on priorities is an encouraging start. (See "Shorts from the selectmen" on page 7.)
Unfortunately, town citizens learned that future overrides are inevitable due to rising operating costs (e.g., health insurance) and some large capital projects (e.g., Carlisle School expansion and septic system, high school renovations). Hopefully citizens also learned, and will remember in November, that it is impossible to comprehend and restructure a complex budget on the Town Meeting floor. The time to probe, question, rethink, and trim budgets is at public hearings on those cold winter nights when school and department budgets are presented and discussed.
If citizens have learned they must be more involved and officials have learned how to improve the budget process, then the strife of the last two months will have been worth it. There are more difficult years ahead.
When I moved back to Carlisle four years ago with my husband and two children, I was not merely returning to my hometown, but also to the same street, three houses up from my parents. The neighborhood is the same in some ways but different in others. Many of the old neighbors are still here, which means the neighborhood has more grandparents than young families. Yes, I do wish my kids could experience that idealized time of my own childhood, when there were so many children to play with. But neighborhoods do, slowly, "turn over."
This summer, one of those neighborhood kids with whom I grew up is moving back into his parents' house with his wife and three children. Two other houses in the neighborhood are on the market, and a new development nearby will bring in other new families. Now that my kids will soon be old enough to walk or ride bikes alone, my hopes for neighborhood playmates are revived.
There are many benefits to informal play with neighborhood children. Rather than parents scheduling playdates (a term I learned after moving to Carlisle with a three-year-old), the children decide when to play. They can also decide when they've played enough and go home at their choosing. Thus, they are empowered to make their own decisions regarding how they spend their time.
Sometimes my daughter tells me that she wants to go over to a friend's house. But for a playdate, as a prearranged social visit, one ought not invite oneself. It's difficult to explain this to a young child. Playing in the neighborhood, on the other hand, can be more informal. And we don't have to keep track of whose turn is it to reciprocate with an invitation.
Visits with neighbors can be short, an hour or less, thus fitting in nicely after school with still some time to spare, or between afternoon activities of the busy preschoolers and kindergarteners. For a formal two-hour playdate, there is barely enough time after getting off the school bus at 3:30 or so.
Siblings are more easily included in neighborhood play. When my son has a classmate over for a playdate, I often have to come up with creative ways to keep his younger sister from interfering too much. With neighbors, that doesn't matter: the kids can be friends at the family level, not just the individual level. And with more than just three children playing together, there isn't necessarily an odd one out. So, the kids have fun with friends and with their siblings at the same time. It's probably also good for sibling relations to play together in someone else's yard without their own parents too close. Such play also allows for games that require more than two or three children, but in a familiar, intimate group unlike the crowded, noisy school playground, where some children, like my son, are overwhelmed by the number of children and unable to break into a small group at play.
Neighborhood play often includes both boys and girls and children of different ages. Beyond the age of four or five, our children's playdates are almost always with those of the same sex and usually the same grade. Some diversity in the age and sex of friends is good for kids.
As summer vacation begins, children should not have to be sent to day camps just so that they can play with other children. This is really the time for them to just play with their neighbors.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito