Friday, March 21, 2003
State aid for high school higher than expected
With state aid for fiscal year 2004 now on the table, acting superintendent Eugene Thayer told the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) on March 11 that the FY04 operating budget can be lowered significantly.
The "level services" budget proposed by the RSC (also called "Budget 1") now drops to $16,485,424 (5.71% over the Concord levy limit) from a high of $17,049,565 (9.32% over the levy limit). The proposed "Budget 2," which falls between the Concord FinCom guideline and the "level services" budget, falls to $16,209,878 (3.94% over levy limit). The Concord FinCom guideline budget remains at $16,136,556 (3.47% over levy limit). Bilodeau said they are waiting to hear from the Concord FinCom on the recommended budget.
Proposition 2-1/2, a 1980 state law, limits annual tax increases to 2-1/2%. If additional funds are needed, Town Meeting must approve an override of Proposition 2-1/2 levy limit.
Thayer wanted to know if all board members agreed to Budget 1. Bilodeau reminded the board that the last time there was an "all or nothing" override, it narrowly passed. "If all boards [Concord and Carlisle FinComs] agree on a budget number, then the towns would be more willing to support it. We run the risk of going into the process we avoided last year, a Joint Town Meeting," she said. "If we go to a Joint Town Meeting, so be it," responded committee member Lauren Walters. "I would prefer the boards recognize the value of maintaining level services [and support the level services budget]," he said. If the ballots offer tier choices, the voters tend to reject the top tier, he maintained. "If we end up with a single number and it doesn't work, and the alternative is a substantial drop, we are in big trouble."
Joint Town Meeting?
"Last year was an extremely time-consuming struggle on the budget," said Bilodeau. "You would want to avoid it. It's true, if we give more choices, the voters might pick the middle choice." Vice-chair Michael Fitzgerald of Carlisle agreed, "Squabbles over budgets should be settled before we come together." The Joint Town Meeting should only be done as a last ditch effort, and can cost money better spent elsewhere, he said. "I would like to see as much agreement around a number as possible." Concord member Rebecca Shannon said she thought the Concord FinCom might not support a single number, and that a tiered ballot will probably be needed. "The FinCom and board of selectmen respond to pressure," commented committee member Patrick Sinnott. "I don't mind giving a signal around a number, but Rebecca's insight is correct," he said. Fitzgerald said he would not support a budget that was below the FinCom's original guideline. "If there was a number on the table," Bilodeau said, "and if we could get behind a number, do we think this is good or not good?" "I don't know why the boards (FinCom and Selectmen) don't come to the committee's number, instead of us going down to the board's number," Walters responded. "I think it is appropriate to have the towns come together in a Town Meeting to discuss what kind of education we want." Fitzgerald disagreed, "The risk we run is to develop a bar that is beyond the affordability of the people we serve." We run the risk of damaging the community, he said. Bilodeau ended the discussion, suggesting a short meeting on Monday March 17, before attending the Concord FinCom meeting later that evening.
High school construction project
Thayer reported the Concord Selectmen are placing the request for Phase I money for the high school construction project on the ballot. Walters asked, "Do we think between now and the Town Meeting is enough time to educate people [about the need for the construction project]? What are the consequences of a 'no' vote?" "If we fail, we lose a year," Fitzgerald replied. He explained that the vote would be part of the process of getting the information out to the public, to educate the towns on the need to update the school. "I'd rather see it go forward" on the ballot, he said. "We've been hit hard for not keeping up with our facilities," Bilodeau said. Walters suggested they cut the request for modular classrooms and lower the amount being asked for construction design, since the classrooms won't be needed for a year. "Symbolism is sometimes valuable," he said, pointing out that reducing the amount requested would be good politics. "I just wish you used that same philosophy on the high school budget," Fitzgerald responded.
Concord resident chair Blair expressed concern about the budget. "The community is in flux; there are people out there who lost jobs at a higher level. Some people are really hurting at the high end. This would have been an excellent meeting for the public to hear: the board working to find a solution. This should have been on television." The board thanked Blair for his comments.
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