The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 18, 2005


Midwinter rites: FinCom, School Committee and the CPS budget

Each January and February, Carlisleans see the snow piled outside their windows and dream about their spring gardens. Just as dependable a mid-winter ritual are the Finance Committee hearings, where the FinCom looks at its "guideline budget" and the schools and the town boards dream about "growth" for the next fiscal year.

This year's observance began with FinCom setting guidelines for the guideline or levy limit budget in December, and was continued at the February 7 hearing on the budget for the Carlisle Public School (CPS). Superintendent Marie Doyle and School Business Manager Steve Moore formally presented a CPS request for a total budget increase in Fiscal Year 2006 (FY06) of $344,857, or 4.5% over this year (FY05). This represented about $139,000, or 1.8%, over the FinCom guideline of 2.7%.

With less $, what would be cut?

The discussion at the hearing focused less on specific items of the extra costs than on what exactly would be cut if the final appropriation by the town does not provide the full 4.5% requested. As in prior years, FinCom members argued they need to "understand the impact" or "gain some insight" into what reductions would mean, as they balance the extra $139K the school has asked for against approximately $390K in over-guideline requests they have already received from the high school and other town departments. And, again as in prior years, school committee members and administrators resisted getting more specific about cuts .

Doyle's and Moore's presentation and an accompanying "budget book" specifically attribute the extra $139,000 expense to

• hiring the additional staff to support the reorganization of the schedule for next year's fifth grade,

• more support for technology, and

• the cost to operate the new wastewater treatment facility for an anticipated seven months in FY06.

The entire "budget book" is available on the school's Web site at However, these items would not necessarily be the ones dropped if the FinCom limited the school to the 2.7% guideline, explained Moore. "If you can't give us [the 4.5%] . . . we'll go back to look at the budget," said Moore.

Definitely class sizes would be higher in some grades, Doyle said in response to a question from FinCom member Ray Wilkes. "We haven't gone through the process of [deciding] what would be cut. Our objective is to present to the committee this is the money we need to effectively operate the school system for FY06," CSC member Michael Fitzgerald said.

Spending up 6.1%

The 4.5% requested actually reflects a more substantial increase in spending of more than 6.1%, or $467,000. However, a change in the formula for state reimbursement for special education will result in higher revenue, and early retirement costs will decline next year, reducing the cost increase by about $122K, or 1.6%, to $344K. (See Table 1.)

The 6/5 plan

Most of the over-guideline expense would support a restructuring for this year's uniusually large fifth grade, who will enter the middle school next year. This group of 118 had lower-than-expected MCAS scores last year, prompting a study by a Middle School Task Force of possible alternative teaching "models" next year.

After considering models that have been successful in middle schools in other towns, the task force recommended the "6/5 plan." This would require an additional 2.5 teachers, in addition to the present four sixth-grade teachers, and would reduce class sizes to 19.5 from the 29.25 that would result with . Two teams of three "core subject" teachers (the "6"), and "specialists" in art, music, physical education, health and world language (the "5") would teach six classes of students.

They would fill one new position from the existing teaching staff and the school would hire a full-time core subject and a half-time world language teacher at a cost of about $98K. Doyle and other school officials stressed that this "intervention" aims to give "intense support" to the class next year and would not necessarily be continue in subsequent years.

$1 million for modular classrooms, capital items

The proposed reorganization will also necessitate two new "teaching spaces" and another science lab, and other capital requests, according to the task force report. However, since capital requests must first be reviewed by the Long Term Capital Requirements Committee, there were few questions from FinCom at the Feb. 7 hearing.

For next year the school committee has asked for approximately $1 million, for two to four 900-square-foot modular classrooms plus office space, for a study of campus expansion, and for upgrade and replacement for technology and other equipment. Moreover, an additional $1-plus million over the next few years would replace several roofs, more technology and other equipment. (The school, FinCom, Selectmen and Long-term Capital requirements Committee were to discuss these requests at a meeting last night, February 17.)

Enrollment not growing

Despite the "bulge" in the middle school addressed by the 6/5 plan, the FY06 budget does not assume substantial increases in enrollment for the entire school, continuing the level trend of the past four years.

The "budget book" reviews three separate projections of future enrollment: by the school administration; by Selectman John Ballantine, and by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC). Each study used somewhat different data. The school based its projections on prior enrollment, the town's history of overall population growth, and potential future growth. NESDEC based its forecast on residential building trends in addition to cohort survival data. Ballantine has for years used data from the town census and sales of newly constructed and "turnover" homes to track how changes in the town's demographic profile and patterns of families moving into and from the community impact the "pipeline" of children moving through the grades at CPS.

Yet despite these differences in source data all three studies "predicted the same trends," the CPS report concludes: that CPS enrollment will stay about the same, or possibly even decline a bit, over the next four years, while next year's shift to larger numbers in the middle school grades may continue. After four years, a further decline is possible, but eventually the school will grow as the town moves toward "build out" of an estimated 2300 households.

Goals for budget & override

The school's budget report also ties specific items in the budget to district goals adopted by the school committee. (SeeTable 2)

According to this review, reading and math specialists are included in the budget to further goals related to language arts and math curricula and assessment, and the middle school reorganization to address scheduling and space needs. Concerns about world (foreign) language instruction may remain unmet needs, as an additional world language teacher and teaching assistants are not included in the budget.

The report identifies other "unmet needs" as potential requests to the Selectmen for inclusion in a possible override of Proposition 2-1/2: for staff development to maintain a civil school climate, for expanded after-school activities for middle school students, and for mentors for Systems Thinking, which will no longer be supported by the Waters Foundation.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito