Friday, December 17, 2004
High school outlines fiscal challenges for FY06
Looking back on the year, Finn pointed to a number of successes. The new language lab will be ready for use in January. A newly installed fiber-optic backbone and phone system are "really big improvements." Administrative costs have been cut by consolidating a grade K to 8 director of special education and a grade 9 to 12 coordinator into one director, and two technical administrative positions into one director of information technology. A human resources coordinator is about to be hired who is expected to improve technology integration and institute a service orientation.
Finn then spoke of school priorities to be kept in mind as budget decisions are made. These include in order: student learning, class size, intervention to reduce special education, technology support for the curriculum, and professional development. She noted the need to regain lost ground from cuts made last year, especially in the areas of technology and professional development. Secretarial support cuts last year will also need to be remedied this year. In addition, a social worker servicing a "critical need" has been funded outside the budget by the Community Chest, but will have to be absorbed if she is to be retained.
Cost of growth
Growth in the student body, which added more than 40 students this year, is driving a need for more sections of math to maintain reasonable class sizes. New program needs have been identified in the areas of health, technology, and the arts. Additional sections of health and fitness are "the most compelling need," and computer instruction is an area in which "there is student interest but we haven't had a class." Currently all music is performance-based, and a section in music history or theory would involve more students. Drama is available only as an extra-curricular activity. Fine arts is a graduation requirement, and students are being turned away as classes become over-subscribed.
Flaherty noted that these identified needs will cost $170,000 to satisfy. He also identified a number of "cost drivers" that are expected to increase significantly, adding $836,000 to the budget without additional programs. These include salaries, special education, and utilities. Using the Concord Finance Committee guideline, which would hold the school to a 3.6% increase, $355,000 would be needed above the levy-limit were all these costs to be budgeted.
Asked what surprises might be in store, Rigby noted there is "a much better picture in special education than last year" when the state's newly-implemented "circuit breaker" program for reimbursing special education costs caused much concern that state funding would be dramatically reduced. In the end, more money was made available than was originally promised, and this year "the special education situation is fairly comfortable," according to Rigby. She reported there is no pending litigation by parents against the school, also an improvement over last year.
She pointed to two areas of concern: the increasing percentage of students in special education, and the high number of out-of-district placements. This year 14% of high school students receive special education against an historic average of 11% (the state average is 16%). Though the increase "hasn't yet driven an increase in staffing," costs will rise if the trend continues. Twenty-four percent of special education students are placed out-of-district as a result of an inability to service their needs at the high school, and this is also higher than the historic average. Steps are being taken to increase intervention to reduce reliance on special education, and alternative education programs are being evaluated with the goal of keeping more students at the high school. However it is a significant challenge to provide services for the "severe emotional and behavioral needs more than the academic needs."
Ray Wilkes questioned what was being done to "increase productivity" and "reinvent the organization to be fresh and successful." Finn pointed to the "challenge when you're in a union environment . . . with a contract in which there's not a lot of flexibility." She noted the first three years of a teacher's contract provide the greatest opportunity for evaluation as teachers earn professional status after that point. Flaherty pointed to productivity improvements expected in the secretarial area when the financial and human resources data bases are integrated over the fiber network, but noted, "There's a need for a lot of human interaction and someone has to be there for those hours."
Physical plant has "dire needs"
Finn said a committee has been formed to look again at the high school building which "has dire needs in terms of the physical plant." A year ago a plan for a $45 million upgrade was floated and received a cool reception from officials and taxpayers in both Concord and Carlisle. Finn noted the need is to "balance [physical needs] with program needs; we can't pour everything into programs."
© 2004 The