Friday, October 31, 2003
Superintendent Finn presents CCHS financials
New Superintendent Brenda Finn and new Director of Financial Services John Flaherty of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District paid the Carlisle FinCom a welcome surprise visit on October 21. They came to provide updated financial information on the high school and explain the impact of a recent change to the state formula for reimbursing towns for special education (SPED) costs.
Finn noted that enrollment at the high school is down four students from last year to 1,204 students. Of these, 314.5 are from Carlisle (the 0.5 represents a student with a parent in each town) raising the town's assessment ratio to 28.54 from 28.51 last year. Concord has 787.5 students, 88 students are from METCO, 12 are students of staff members, and two are wards of the state. She presented a document stating, "During the next decade, enrollment is projected to increase for three years and then begin a gradual decline through the end of the decade and beyond, settling in the area of approximately 1,180 students by present projections."
Instructional staffing has risen to 110.94 full-time equivalents (FTEs) from 109.43 last year. Of these, 92.8 are regular education teachers and 9.3 are SPED. Finn noted that "sick leave buyback" provided in the teachers' contract has mitigated some of the expected cost savings from early retirement. In addition, new teachers are not necessarily costing less. "We've hired veteran teachers from other districts and are paying them accordingly."
Surprise $150K cut in state aid
In preparing FY04 budgets, schools had been told the state would use a "circuit breaker" formula providing 75% reimbursement over a certain threshhold for SPED costs. Last week the state announced the reimbursement would be 27.62%, not the 75% the schools had expected. The change impacts the 2003-04 school year and presents the CCHS with an unwelcome $150,000 shortfall.
The high school will be looking at various alternatives for covering the cost, including use of the E&D (Excess and Deficiency) account if funds are available, with the likelihood that taxpayers may be asked to reimburse the funds at a later date.
It was noted the Carlisle Public School is not affected by the reimbursement change, as that budget was prepared with no assumption of state aid. Finn pointed out that elementary schools were less affected because they have fewer outplaced SPED students.
Another SPED issue involves two students placed in residential programs without the involvement of high school staff. The parents have applied to have the $159,000 cost covered by the high school. While Finn admits the placement "was not accepted procedure," she worries, "If we don't pay now, we'll pay in legal costs." She adds, "When litigation is pursued, parents are usually successful."
Capital plan still in the works
FinCom Chair Lisa Jensen-Fellows wondered if the high school is planning to present a large capital project, or just critical repair and maintenance in a Spring Warrant Article. Regional School Committee (RSC) Chair Mike Fitzgerald answered that the committee is still working on a recommendation: "We've got a lot to do in a very short time." FinCom member Bret Bero asked that the RSC invite FinCom participation "as the plan is rolled out, as opposed to after it's done." Responded Fitzgerald, "We're competing for precious capital dollars and we know that."
Enthusiastic after first months
Asked how her first months were progressing, Finn spoke of the staff: "It's a great group. The work ethic is outstanding and the dedication to students is outstanding." She also pointed to the very impressive involvement and expertise of the Concord and Carlisle communities. Noting that she came from a district with a worse financial situation Finn expressed optimism: "We'll get through the next few years just fine. In a few years we'll restore if we have to reduce now." Fitzgerald injected that in his time on the RSC he had survived four superintendents and had not seen one "walk in with as much enthusiasm as well as an analytical eye."
© 2003 The