Friday, March 14, 2003
Guest commentary: On funding the high school
For several months now I have been wrestling with budget scenarios that seem to get worse with each passing day. The news this past week has been worst of all. The problem is multidimensional and began in earnest last fall. First, the state has underfunded the region in transportation reimbursement and special education reimbursement for this fiscal year. This was money we had every reason to expect since it is in compliance with state law. Because of the under funding we are in serious deficit this year. This creates extreme difficulties for the school and the management of the region's budgets. Much of the responsibility for the management falls to the superintendent's office. Most of the effects fall to the high school. For the moment there is a freeze on all spending unless it is absolutely critical to the function of the program. The freeze will not come close to covering the deficit, but we have to stop the bleeding before we think of curing the patient. This plan for the cure will unfold this spring.
The much bigger problem is next year's budget. I cannot begin to emphasize what a huge problem this is. We already know that certain uncontrollable costs such as insurance, utilities, transportation of all types, and some special education costs are increasing significantly, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the same time the state is cutting back local aid to towns, some of which is apportioned to schools including, again, funds targeted for transportation and special education. We have known all this for a while. To this point, all projected budget deficits that you have read about include our best estimates. The new wrinkle is that Governor Romney's pledge not to hurt education as he reduces the state budget has turned out to be both hollow and hurtful. Governor Romney's proposed FY04 budget contains a $772,356 reduction in Chapter 70 direct aid to Concord-Carlisle Regional High School. We had anticipated a cut. We had estimated the worst-case scenario might be a cut of $265,000, which is 15% of FY03 Chapter 70 money. The governor cut 43.6% of the Chapter 70 money. Absolutely unbelievable!
Since my arrival at CCHS I have been surprised by how tight the CCHS budget is and have stated so consistently. Suffice it to say at this moment that the potential cuts you have seen in this paper are very real. They will impact this school and your children if enacted. Without a substantial change in the governor's position or a significant override, the CCHS most of you know will cease to exist. Loss of secretarial support will mean less efficiency, less communication, and ultimately less time available for educators to address educational issues. Loss of money for supplies, materials, and texts both directly and indirectly reduces educational opportunities for students. Loss of custodial and maintenance personnel is the ultimate penny-wise-pound-foolish circumstance as one of the most valuable real assets in the community will decay more rapidly. Loss of social workers and counselors at a time when we have factual evidence of student need means desperate young people lose hope. Loss of sports and co-curricular activities will mean hundreds more students will leave school at 2:05 p.m. with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Loss of academic programs will result in fewer classes available and therefore fewer opportunities to learn, to develop skills, to challenge ideas, and to grow in every facet toward adulthood.
I understand that finances are tight for every town and even for most individuals. I ask at this time that you keep informed as this spring's budget talks unfold. Do not assume, "It will work itself out." If you are at a meeting when someone speaks of the "fat" in the schools' budget, I request that you ask them if they have paid a visit to the principal of the school to verify the "fat." I am completely open to such a visit from those who believe we are "wasting" money. Indeed, I fully believe that if people, even our most hardened critics, knew the truth of school financing, they would become our staunchest allies in the battle for sufficient funding.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito