Friday, May 2, 2003
Again, towns mismatched on CCHS budget
Voters at Concord Town Meeting this week passed the Regional School Committee's level services budget which is $350,000 higher than the highest level that will be offered at the Carlisle Town Meeting. Despite the year-long process that the Carlisle and Concord Boards of Selectmen (BOS), Finance Committees, and the Regional School Committee (RSC) pursued to avoid the complexity and cost associated with the two towns approving different school funding levels, Concord's Board of Selectmen opened the door to multiple Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) override levels in Concord. Consequently, Concord voters will be offered three CCHS override ballot questions on May 13. Conversely, Carlisle's Town Meeting Warrant calls for a single CCHS override article. Therefore, unless the voters of Carlisle and Concord both vote for the same override level, the effort to coordinate overrides will have been for naught.
Carlisle has one CCHS override option
The Carlisle Selectmen and Finance Committee agreed to support the Concord FinCom recommended budget which calls for a Carlisle override of $189,000. Consequently, Carlisle will only have one CCHS override article on the Town Warrant.
Regardless of whether Carlisle approves the override (see related article on page 1) at Town Meeting, the ultimate regional school budget may not be decided until well after both towns vote.
There are a number of potential outcomes from the votes of the two towns.
· Only two of the outcomes — both towns approving the Concord FinCom-approved override or both towns rejecting all overrides — will result in an approved budget.
· If Carlisle approves its override budget, and Concord approves the highest budget (level services), the Regional School Committee could accept the lower of the two levels without the need for a Joint Town Meeting.
· If Carlisle approves the override and Concord approves the lowest override or the levy limit budget, the RSC would seek to have the Carlisle approved override voted in by Concord at a special election or through a Joint Town Meeting.
· If Carlisle rejects the override and Concord approves any of its three overrides, the RSC would seek to have the Carlisle override approved in a special Carlisle town election or through a Joint Town Meeting.
Complex budget process
The process used to arrive at the Concord-Carlisle High School budget is complex. The Superintendent of the school prepares a budget and submits it to the Regional School Committee. By law, a budget must be at the "levy limit," the amount that corresponds to last year's budget with a 2 -1/2% increase over last years levy plus new real estate growth. The Superintendent can also propose additional budgets at higher levels, resulting in the need for funding "overrides." The Regional School Committee recommends a budget amount for the Warrants at the respective Town Meetings. The recommendation of the RSC is then reviewed by both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee of each town in the regional school district. Assuming that either the levy limit budget or a single, consistent override budget is approved by voters of both towns at their Town Meetings and through the local elections, the budget is set.
If, however, the towns do not agree on a consistent budget amount, then the process can get very messy. The RSC can agree to adopt the lowest level approved by voters. In that case, the budget is then set at that amount, and each town is apportioned its share of the budget based on student enrollment. Conversely, the RSC can adopt the highest budget approved by the voters in a single town. In that case, the town that did not approve that level would need to call another Town Meeting to approve that budget. If the town did not approve the budget, a Joint Town Meeting between the two towns would be held to agree on a budget. The majority of the voters at that Joint Town Meeting would set the budget at whatever level the voters at that meeting thought appropriate.
Last year's mismatch
Last year, Carlisle and Concord voters approved different levels of funding for CCHS. An additional night of Carlisle Town Meeting to deal with school funding, and the magnanimity of Concord in absorbing a portion of Carlisle's CCHS budget obligation, was required to avoid a joint Carlisle and Concord Town Meeting.
This year, the various Carlisle and Concord town committees held numerous joint meetings in order to avoid the challenges of last year. A general understanding was reached through these meetings that the five committees — the Carlisle and Concord Selectmen and FinComs, and the Regional School Committee — would agree to offer one number to the voters. By agreeing to offer voters a single agreed-to funding level, the confusion for the voters and the cost and complexity for the towns would be eliminated. The figure agreed on by the interested parties was the Concord FinCom-recommended budget.
Concord Selectmen void budget understanding
A minority of the Concord Selectmen, confronted with overrides for Concord Public Schools, CCHS, and other departments, chose to recommend a lower override amount for CCHS. Although the majority of the Concord Selectmen voted to support the Concord FinCom-approved override, a decision was reached to offer both the approved override and an alternative override between the FinCom-recommended override and the levy limit. The Regional School Committee, as it had promised that it would do if more than the single agreed-to override was presented to the Town Meeting, insisted that their level services budget that was recommended by the RSC also be placed in front of the voters.
Consequently, Concord Town Meeting voters had four budget amounts to
decide between (see table 1). Consistent with the Town Meeting rules
in Concord, all budget amounts at and below the highest budget amount
approved by the Town Meeting would be offered on the ballot. After a
presentation by RSC chair Betsy Bilodeau and comments from the BOS,
FinCom, and citizens, the Concord Town Meeting voted to approve the
highest budget amount — the level services budget.
Note: Override amounts are approximate, subject to exact apportionment
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito