The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 25, 2002


High school superintendent presents FY04 budget estimates

During a presentation to a subcommittee of the Concord Finance Committee on October 17th, Gene Thayer, interim superintendent of Concord and Concord-Carlisle Regional Schools, outlined the major trends that will impact the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District over the coming years. Superintendent Thayer also presented the initial enrollment and FY04 budget estimates for the regional high school. The Carlisle Finance Committee attended the meeting.

FY04 enrollment and budget estimates

Looking forward to next year, Thayer presented the first estimate of enrollment and budget assumptions. Although preliminary, these numbers will become the foundation for discussing the cost versus quality of education issue in both Carlisle and Concord. And, unlike last year when Concord was willing to support large overrides, Concord residents will enter this conversation on both sides of the issue.

CCHS enrollment is currently 1,208, up form 1,139 students last year and higher than the 1,167 students projected for the current year. Of more significance to Carlisle is the ratio of the Concord and Carlisle student enrollments. There are 61 more students from Concord at the high school this year than last year, and 49 more than projected. However, there are only 13 more Carlisle students, 4 less than projected.

These enrollment numbers determine the percent of the regional school district budget that is assessed to each town. In the last four years, Carlisle's assessment rose from 24.32% to 29.32%. The FY04 assessment will be 28.51%, a decline of 2.7%. Furthermore, assessments for the next three years are projected to stay in the range of 28.5% to 29.7%.

The current year budget (FY03) is $15,595,534. Thayer estimates the FY04 level services budget to be $16,652,167, representing a 6.78% increase. The cumulative impact of this budget estimate and the enrollment figures represent an increase in the cost per student of approximately 4.5 — 5%.

Budget categories

The budget is broken down into seven categories. regular education, which includes teacher's salaries and other regular education spending, is projected to increase by 7.5% to $8,564,117. Special education (out-of-district) will be $1,582,845, a 15.3% increase. In-district special education is forecasted to be $1,017,474, a .2% increase over last year. Administration support, which includes the central office and the salaries for the principals, assistant principals, and secretaries, will be $1,043,985, a 4% increase. Operations, which include heat, utilities, and transportation, will increase 5% to $2,126,858. Fixed Costs, which includes such things as health benefits and retirements, will be $1,452,000an increase of 10.7%. Finally, debt service will decline by 3.5% to $864,000.

The regional school district budget is funded through assessments to Concord and Carlisle, state aid, and district funds. Unfortunately, state aid is expected to decline 5.3%, and district funds are estimated to decline by 42.5%. This means that, if the superintendent's budget were to be adopted, the amount that will need to be assessed to Concord and Carlisle will go up by $1,277,649 to $14,277,841an increase of 9.8%. This means that, despite the lower assessment percentage, Carlisle's assessment will go up around 7% to $4,070,612. In comparison, Concord's assessment of $10,207,229 represents an 11% increase.

Only the initial estimate

Asked by the subcommittee to comment on the information presented, Carlisle FinCom chairman Larry Barton stated, "It's better than it was last year." Concord Carlisle Regional School Committee vice chairman Michael Fitzgerald reminded the subcommittee that the projections were very dependent on development and only the initial estimate.

The meeting concluded with the potential emergence of two different distinct positions on the coming budget discussion. Concord Finance Committee member Richard Levinson commented that he would like to see the budget have greater recognition of the tax impact on residents. He felt that, given the upcoming teacher negotiation, he would like to see increases in compensation offset by productivity increases. Concord School Committee member Betsy Bilodeau thanked Thayer and his staff for their efforts, and commented that the community will face the decision of paying for the excellent education its children receive, or letting the education slide.

Future challenges for Concord and Carlisle schools

Thayer also addressed the issues confronting the Concord Schools, most of which also apply to Carlisle. Special education enrollment continues to rise. The towns will need to develop a vision and programs for supporting a child's special education needs from early childhood through high school. Early intervention can help to address how services are provided, enabling the towns to better manage these costs and meet their obligation to these students.

Another significant trend will be the changing composition of teachers and staff. Many of the teachers and staff have been in the school system for many years and will be retiring in the near future. This will result in rising retirement benefits, and the need to recruit new teachers. Furthermore, the changing nature of the teachers and staff, if not properly managed, could impact the quality of the educational experience for Concord and Carlisle students.

The demographics of the student body are also likely to change. There has been an increase in the non-English speaking population in Massachusetts. Although this has not been a significant issue to date, it is very possible that the regional school district will need to develop courses and support mechanisms for these students in the next decade.

Another trends included the need to incorporate ever-changing technology into the educational process. If our students are to keep up with technology advancements, then there will be a recurring need for both hardware investments, and spending on integrating technology into the classroom. Technology is already being used by kids for educational activities such as research and interactive math learning. However, while technology can be helpful, the school system will also need to address how to safeguard our children from on-line dangers and misadventure.

Because education has received much greater public attention lately, there has been significant research as to how children learn. The insights gained from this research are leading to new thinking on how to teach kids at all ages. These efforts will undoubtedly result in new curriculum and educational programs for our teachers to learn and integrate into the classroom.

Building space may also become an issue for both the regional high school and the K-8 public schools. The teacher contract specifies a maximum student-to-teacher ratio. Based on the current enrollment and the manner in which classrooms are scheduled, the High School is quick running out of space. The High School has had greater enrollment in less space in the distant past. However, the classroom size was larger and ancillary facilities (Hunt gym and the old Emerson school) were used to accommodate the larger enrollments in the 70s and 80s. Without changes to the limitations for scheduling classrooms, there will be challenges for finding the required space within the current building footprint.

Finally, Thayer stated that the regional school district had done a good job implementing the education reform requirements enacted a decade ago. This included enacting SPED programs, introducing and enhancing health education, introducing technology, conducting teacher evaluations and staff monitoring, and addressing early childhood literacy.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito