Friday, February 28, 2003
Minuteman High School defends 38% increase
On February 12, Ron Fitzgerald of the Minuteman Regional High School responded to a request from the FinCom to explain a substantial increase in the Carlisle assessment for FY04. The FinCom had hoped to keep the Minuteman budget at the $87,297 level of FY03, but received information the assessment would be $129,371 (lowered to $120,661 after an error was discovered). Minuteman is a regional high school providing a vocational education to students seeking an alternative to the traditional high school.
Carlisle enrollment rises
Towns that are members of the Minuteman region, including Carlisle, pay an assessment based on the number of their students enrolled as of October the previous year. In October 2001, the point at which the FY03 assessment was determined, Carlisle enrollment at MMRHS was five regular students. Six regular and 2.29 "reduced cost" students were enrolled in October 2002, the baseline for determining the FY04 assessment. This resulted in a 38% increase in Carlisle's assessment.
Fitzgerald explained the "reduced cost" students are enrolled in adult vocational training geared to unemployed high school graduates without previous vocational training. This is separate from the adult education program geared to the hobbyist, which is self-supporting. Reduced cost students must demonstrate an economic need, and are chosen through an interview in what Fitzgerald called "a trusting procedure."
Chance for success for failing students
Fitzgerald defended Minuteman's tuition levies which, as Larry Barton of the FinCom noted, exceed $16,000 per full-time student, by pointing to the high percentage of SPED students; 52% of the student body. "They've not had success with their local schools, so want to try something other than what's not working."
MMRHS has assumed a key role as a last chance for success for students who have failed elsewhere, according to Fitzgerald, and has had considerable success turning these students around. Many students reach MMRHS with a reading level sixth grade or below, a level at which "there is a high probability of failure on the MCAS exam."
The school has instituted a computerized reading program, known as "Successmaker," which, according to Fitzgerald, raises reading levels by 2.35 grades per year. "These are visual learners, so phonics doesn't help," he notes. "These students are in special education not because of some deficiency, but because they learn in a different way. But it takes time and staffing to convince someone 'I can learn.'" He adds, "Many are very talented, but (MCAS) testing is not the right way to evaluate them - it doesn't reveal that talent."
Budget pressures rise
Fitzgerald noted that tuition has remained constant this year. Although overall enrollment has gone down, there are several pressures on the budget, including a possible 15% reduction in state aid, uncertainty about whether the town of Arlington, which in previous years avoided paying its full assessment, will assume its burden, and whether company grants will diminish. He is hopeful legislation to allow out-of-district students to elect courses at vocational schools would benefit MMRHS. "If it goes through, enrollment will stabilize and the fiscal picture will brighten."
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito