Friday, May 2, 2003
Warrant Article 5: Warrant asks override for CCHS
Carlisle voters are being asked by the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee, and the Regional School Committee to support an override of $189,000 to fund the fiscal year 2004 regional high school operating budget. Through the complexities of state and local funding, this 3.5% override would actually result in reduced services at CCHS. On an issue that all parties agree is difficult and complex, the question before the town voters is simpleis the override justified?
CCHS budget background
In a less difficult financial year, the Regional School Committee would ask town voters to approve a level of funding at least necessary to provide services equivalent to the prior year, if not higher to provide for new programs and services. But, this is not a normal year. The State has reduced the "Chapter 70" and regional transportation funding that CCHS has historically received by approximately $1,000,000. At the same time, State mandated spending for special education, for which Massachusetts provides 17% of the funding, has gone up by approximately 10%. Other programs mandated by the State, such as MCAS and "No Child Left Behind," do not receive funding. Other uncontrollable costs, such as health insurance and utilities, have also increased significantly. On top of all that, enrollment at CCHS has increased by 38% over the past decade.
Therefore, the RSC is actually proposing a budget that reduces services. If the proposed override passes, service such as summer curriculum development, technology, supplies, secretarial support, and other administrative activities will be reduced. If the override does not pass, all of the above cuts will occur, plus reductions in custodial staff, campus monitors, and 30% of the co-curricular and athletic budgets would be necessary.
Override Support Arguments
Asked to make their case, supporters of the override point out that the budget is under control. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the cost per pupil has actually declined from $9,916 in 1993 to $9,346 in 2003. This is the lowest level of spending in the past decade. The need for the override is caused not by a lack of budgetary control at the local level, but the loss of State aid. The programs that would be cut if the override is not passed, although not all academic in nature, are an important part of adolescence development. Co-curricular activities teach life long lessons, such as teamwork and striving for excellence, and can keep youths from less positive activities. A quality school that has a good academic reputation and co-curricular program is necessary to attract the teachers for whom parents are asking. This benefits our children as they seek to get into colleges.
A superior school also benefits the larger community. Property values are driven in large part by quality schools. As on resident asked at the Concord Town Meeting, "who would like to see our property values match the performance of our investments and IRAs over the past few years?" Also, graduates of the high school often come back to live in the town. Many of them become town leaders. The quality of their high school education can determine the quality of the town services in future years.
Finally, supporters note that voting for the override is also a reflection of our values. Support for public education is one of America's most important social compacts.
Override Opposition Arguments
Many citizens believe there is one, and only one, reason why an override is necessarythe teachers' contract. They point out that the contract has provided the teachers with compensation increases above the rate of inflation during a period when many citizens have had wages frozen or lost their job. Furthermore, productivity (i.e., student:teacher ratio) improvements, such as those expected of businesses during economic downturns, could result in the need for no override. They also wonder why everything in the high school has to be the bestcan't acceptable be good enough for some things? These citizens are frustrated that their choice is a cut in services/programs or higher taxes. They would like the RSC to take on the teachers' union and negotiate a contract whereby the teachers' economic interests are more aligned with the town's economic position. They believe it is unfortunate that the only way to get that message across is to oppose the override.
Some senior citizens oppose the override for a very practical reasonthey cannot afford it. People living on fixed incomes cannot continue to have taxes increase at a time when their financial resources are not growing. Rising taxes will ultimately force them to move out of town. They will most likely sell their houses to families with young childrenwho will place increased demands on the school budget.
So, is the override justified? Clearly, there are arguments that can be made for and against. The challenge that the town confronts is how to maintain an appropriate balance between educational excellence and fiscal discipline.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito