Friday, July 18, 2003
State budget leaves Carlisle and Concord with FY04 deficit Towns must agree on CCHS budget cuts
Voters in both Carlisle and Concord breathed sighs of relief in May when approved overrides for the two towns miraculously resulted in matching budget levels for the Concord-Carlisle High School. But it appears that relief may have been prema-ture.
In late June Boston lawmakers revised the state budget for fiscal year 2004 (which began July 1) leaving both towns with shortfalls that will have to be dealt with. In something of a reversal of the situation last year, it is Concord that is struggling to overcome a large $900,000 deficit while Carlisle's deficit of $50,000 is much more manageable. In addition, this year the state is allocating Chapter 70 funds differently, sending money directly to regional school districts instead of to the towns.
The Concord Board of Selectmen has asked all Concord town departments and the high school to reduce their budgets by 2%. (See story on page 5.)
If a 1% reduction in the CCHS budget were approved, Carlisle's share would drop by $28,000, reducing the town's shortfall to $12,000. At a 2% reduction, the Carlisle budget would show a surplus of $28,000. The total cut in the high school budget would be $136,228 at the 1% level and $272,456 at 2%.
Selectmen vote 1% cut for CCHS
Carlisle selectmen were more interested in preserving the high school budget at the level approved by voters in the spring than they were in realizing a $28,000 windfall. At the July 8 meeting Selectman Doug Stevenson proposed a compromise where the high school budget would be reduced by 1%. This "1% solution" would result in a balanced budget for Carlisle, but would leave Concord with a budget deficit, which might necessitate deeper cuts in other areas of the Concord town budget.
Selectman Vivian Chaput noted that the high school teachers' contract expired on June 30, and a new contract has not yet been signed. She thought a 2% cut in the high school budget might "exacerbate" negotiation difficulties.
The board discussed the problems the two towns and the region have had in agreeing on a budget level for the high school. It was also suggested that greater communication between the towns might have been helpful in this situation, since Concord's proposed cuts to the high school will affect Carlisle students as well. Selectman Tony Allison said, "I don't think we should balance Concord's town budget on Carlisle kids' back." The Selectmen made a motion that the board indicate to Concord and the RSC a "willingness to reduce the regional high school budget by no more than 1%."
FinCom supports 1% cut
On July 9, the Carlisle Finance Committee supported the Selectmen's proposal to limit the reduction in the high school budget to a maximum of 1%. Originally, the Selectmen had hoped to manage Carlisle's deficit without budget reductions or additional overrides. However, as the Concord and Carlisle budgets for the high school must match under the regional agreement, any reduction Concord takes in the high school budget must be matched by Carlisle to avoid a protracted process of reconciliation.
In arguing against the full 2% reduction, FinCom member Larry Barton expressed concern that a significant cut in the CCHS budget would run counter to the will of the voters."The (Carlisle) community through the ballot supported the high school by a significant margin," he noted, adding, "I sense that the Regional School Committee (RSC) wants genuinely to be part of the solution, but that full 2% goes too deep." RSC member Mike Fitzgerald agreed , "We want to work with the people of Concord and here(Carlisle) to get this resolved," but pointed to the difficulty in managing budget cuts at this late date, particularly since a new school administration has just been put in place.
Special Town Meeting Aug. 12
On July 10, the Board of Selectmen agreed that Carlisle will need a Special Town Meeting to deal with the changes in state aid. However, it is possible that a Special Town Meeting may not be needed if the Selectmen of both towns agree to reduce the regional budget. The state department of revenue has made a one-time rule allowing town Selectmen to reduce regional school budgets within 45 days of state budget signing without Town Meeting approval. If the Carlisle share of the regional budget is reduced by 1% or more, the underage or overage can be dealt with and a Special Town Meeting avoided.
Carlisle requires a balanced budget by mid-August in order to certify the tax rate in time to issue fall tax bills.
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