Friday, February 7, 2003
Cutting the high school budget: 'silent anger and frustration'
Responding to pressure from the Concord and Carlisle finance committees, acting high school superintendent Gene Thayer introduced a draft of possible budget cuts at the January 28 meeting of the regional school committee (RSC). Before displaying this list, he confessed his "silent anger and frustration" during the process of creating the list of cuts. "All the time put into this takes away from our kids," he explained. He said he put the original budget together, but now has to "tear it apart to show people we don't have excess in our budget."
'You will not have the same school'
Two weeks ago the RSC voted to propose a "level services" FY04 budget totaling $17,049,565, an increase of 9.32% over the current year. Earlier, the Concord FinCom had recommended a budget guideline of $16,136,558. The levy limit budget level, requiring no override of the Proposition 2-1/2 levy limit, would be $15,472,130. To reduce the level services budget to the Concord FinCom level, cuts totaling $1,264,895 would have to be made, including many items such as MCAS remediation, a custodian, two campus monitors, a SPED (special education) tutor, a planning room supervisor, career ed assistant, and all non-athletic extra-curricular programs. "I hope people understand what's happening here," said Thayer. "This is serious. You will not have the same school [if the cuts are made]," he stressed. To get down to the levy limit budget, deeper cuts would be needed, including the whole athletic program, two SPED tutors, the health and fitness program and secretarial positions.
Committee vice-chair Michael Fitzgerald of Carlisle began discussing the possibility of keeping some cuts and compromising on the level services budget. Concord committee member Lauren Walters disagreed: "This committee adopted the level services budget. My view is that is our budget." RSC members should stand with the voted budget, he concluded. Fitzgerald expressed concern: "We will have a problem if we don't show some cuts...We need to understand the times we live in. The public may not support us." Committee member Patrick Sinnott (Concord) said he felt strongly about supporting the level-services budget. Member Rebecca Shannon (Concord) agreed, saying the first job was to convince the Concord FinCom and the Concord Selectmen. Thayer, noting that not all committee members were in agreement with the level-services budget, pointed out, "My first job is to convince the board and don't have us back off from this [level services] number." RSC chair Betsy Bilodeau (Concord) ended the discussion: "We need to speak as a group that this budget is what we support."
During the citizens' comments, high school principal Art Dulong said students get an excellent education at the school and the staff, administration, and parents expect and receive a high quality education. "The truth is you have cut to the bone. That's all we have left." Full cuts would diminish their ability to offer services to the students, he concluded.
Informing the public
At one point, Walters wondered "how to get information to the public" about the effect of the budget cuts. He waved to the reporter sitting at the "press desk" and asked if she were from the Concord Journal. Bilodeau replied that she was from the Carlisle Mosquito and said the Concord Journal does not usually have a reporter at regional school committee meetings.
CCHS Superintendent's draft list of FY04 cuts
* total brings CCHS budget to Concord FinCom budget level
** total brings CCHS budget to Concord levy limit budget level
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito