Friday, February 18, 2005
FinCom sympathetic to CCHS, but no extra $$ yet
While others celebrated Valentine's Day, romance took a back seat for the FinCom members and representatives of Concord-Carlisle High School as they met to review FY06 budgets. There was good news and bad news on the budget front: while the process of agreeing with Concord on a budget for the high school could be less painful this year than last, Carlisle may have to find $104,000 more than currently planned for CCHS.
The good news
First the good news: Concord plans to present only one override level to voters. Although the Regional School Committee (RSC) passed a budget higher than that recommended by the Concord FinCom, the RSC agreed to use reserves to make up the difference if the override passes, avoiding the need for a higher level override. In past years, multiple Concord levels complicated the Carlisle FinCom's job of trying to provide a match. According to the regional agreement, both towns must pass the same budget at Town Meeting and elections or face the possibility of a protracted process for reconciling the difference.
The bad news
The bad news is that in order to reach the Concord override level, Carlisle must increase its budget for the high school by $104,000 over the current levy limit amount.
Superintendent Brenda Finn pointed to costs driving the need for funding, including salaries, special education, transportation, and utilities. Decreased state aid also has an impact. Finn compared FY05 to FY02, when student enrollment was one hundred less than today and state funding for Chapter 70 and transportation was $354,580 more. Now that amount must be made up by the communities.
Finn noted, however, "The financial picture is more positive" for the high school this year than last due to administrative cuts, a better formula for calculating state special education reimbursement, and "no extraordinary litigation," such as that which resulted in an unexpected bill for student outplacements. She outlined priorities in preparing the FY06 budget, including student learning and achievement, class size, increasing curricular and extracurricular offerings, and professional development. After a few tough years of belt tightening, the school must reinvest in professional development, building maintenance, and technology to stay compliant with Department of Education requirements.
Three budget levels
Finn presented three possible FY06 budget levels. The first, consistent with the Concord levy limit, offers a 3.9% increase over FY05. This budget at $17,495,172 would cause a shortfall of $185,072 if all current programs are kept. The second, dubbed the Concord FinCom Override Guideline (not to be confused with Carlisle's FinCom guideline which assumes no override) would offer an additional $355,072, for a 6% increase, and cover current programs while adding monies for instructional staffing, clerical restoration, and textbooks. The third level, adopted by the RSC, would add another $103,588 to bring the school to a 6.6% increase to cover everything the level two budget does, as well as computer replacements, instructional technology, and software. As mentioned, this third level will automatically be funded if the second level passes.
The override budget would address curricular and extracurricular deficiencies. New courses in art, music, and drama would be possible, all in high demand, costing $129,300 for the equivalent of 1.5 full time teachers. Another $47,000 would allow stipends for teachers coordinating extracurricular clubs and the addition of girls ice hockey. Sixty-five thousand dollars would restore professional development, clerical support, and instructional supplies. A computer hardware and software upgrade would be completed for $127,300. A custodian, two campus monitors, and security cameras would be added for $67,000.
Security at the top of the list
The mention of security prompted FinCom member Ray Wilkes to ask what is being done about CCHS survey results showing students bringing guns and knives to school. Finn indicated discussions had been undertaken. "We need to take a better look at security," she said, but noted that with seventy-seven entrances and multiple groups using the facility, "completely securing it is impossible." Assistant Principal Jessica Truslow said penknives are sometimes brought to school "without the intent to use them as weapons, [but] the guns piece took us by surprise."
The school has pinpointed a need for a better communications system between classrooms and improved supervision of the gym and locker rooms, where several thefts have occurred. An attempt to short-circuit problems through support services is reflected in the levy limit budget, which contains addition sections of health and fitness (where students receive instruction on managing issues) and the salary of a social worker formerly paid out of a grant. The override budget contains funds for hall monitors and clerical staff who also provide a level of security. Mike Fitzgerald of the committee looking at a possible high school renovation added, "Security is at the top of the priority list when we look at what to do with the high school."
More $$ for CCHS is priority one
In a later discussion the FinCom assigned the additional money needed to meet the high school budget at the override level a "priority one." Over the next weeks the committee will be re-analyzing revenue sources in an attempt to accommodate high priority needs under the levy limit. If this proves impossible,it will be up to the town Selectmen to determine if an override of Proposition 2-1/2 limits on taxes should be put before the voters at Town Meeting in May.
© 2005 The