Friday, December 20, 2002
Carlisle School attempts to live within levy limit
The Carlisle Finance Committee met with school superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson, new school business manager Steven Moore, and members of the school committee on December 11 for an initial review of the impact of the FinCom's FY04 guideline budget on school programs. The current FinCom guideline for the school allows a 2.6 % increase over this year's (FY03) budget.
School committee chair Suzanne Whitney Smith noted, "[The school] took a big hit last year. . . putting us in a position to reduce significant services to students." In 2003-4 the school had hoped to restore services, including several that were funded this year through one-time grants or parent fees. Whitney Smith also pointed to areas, such as maintenance, that were not restored, "and putting off maintenance, as we know, is a foolish thing to do." She added that both teacher and bus contracts will be renegotiated this year, making it impossible to accurately predict costs next year.
Three budget levels presented
School representatives then presented three budget levels with analyses of the programmatic impact at each. The three levels were a Level 1 $2.62% increase ($189,419 over FY03), a Level 2 4.25% increase ($306,534), and a Level 3 7.65% increase ($552,184). Even at the highest level, several programs lost in this year's budget would not be restored, including a guidance counselor, four middle school teaching assistants, team leaders and curriculum coordinators.
However, even at the lowest 2.62% level, it appears several currently-unbudgeted programs could be restored, including an added third-grade section, student choruses, technology support, an integration specialist, and co-curricular activities (student council, yearbook, math league). In addition, school library hours, now only half covered by the budget (the other half restored through a CEF fundraising effort), would be fully covered. The FinCom soon learned, however, that restoration of these services at this level relied on a number of very optimistic assumptions.
Contracts could add to cost
According to Fox-Melanson, no increase in either the teacher or bus contracts was included in the analysis, not even cost-of-living. For every 1% increase in the new teacher contract over the current one, $42,000 will have to be cut from programs to maintain the levy-limit budget. And holding the line on the bus contract will be difficult as there is little or no competition for Carlisle's routes. "This (analysis) could look very different when we settle contracts," she warned.
Another uncertainty is the possibility of reductions in state or foundation grants to the school, which could be affected by economic factors and budgetary difficulties on the state level. Student enrollment is another wild card, as an increase requiring added teachers or aides would impact the budget.
Not "doom and gloom"
FinCom member Tony Allison, ignoring the significant upside potential on costs, responded optimistically to the analysis. "If we take the Level 1 budget (2.6%) and add CEF money and bus fees, you're at Level 2 (4.25%)." At this level, afternoon kindergarten is free, and a second-grade section, a reading tutor, and a permanent substitute are added to the restored programs at Level 1. "This is not a doom-and-gloom scenario," added Allison. "Level 2 is achievable [without an override], and we hope we can achieve Level 3."
Don't count on private
donations for budget gaps
CEF president Jeff Brown noted it is imprudent to assume private funds will be available to plug budgetary gaps. Reminding the committee that the "Save the Library" appeal was "an extraordinary effort," he cautioned, "We no longer have a Pig and Pepper event. Things are tighter, and it may be dangerous to assume that the school will get the same money from the CEF." Whitney Smith also questioned the fairness of bus fees, "This is a service we should be providing."
Allison noted the Carlisle School had responded responsibly to a tight year by tempering its requests, and Barton praised the school's attempt to live within the levy limit, saying, "This is a very good job." FinCom member Deb Belanger summarized the quandary in attempting to plan for a new year. "Without knowing about contracts, who knows where we'll end up?"
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito