The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 25, 2005


Hats off to the auction volunteers

The many hardworking parents, teachers and other volunteers who hosted the Carlisle School Association (CSA) / Carlisle Education Foundation (CEF) auction and dinner dance last Saturday deserve a big round of applause for a job well done. Leading the volunteers were auction co-chairs Laura Snowdon, CEF president, and Michelle Sobin, president of the CSA. Roughly $60,000 was raised and will be used to support the Carlisle Public School.

Expenses were kept low, in large part, because the Middlesex School generously donated the use of the building and Wayside Mortgage donated the cost of the live music.

The first CEF / CSA auction was held in 2003. Snowdon said that the first and third auctions were large endeavors, including both silent and live auctions. Students made crafts and teachers volunteered time and/or auction items. So as not to overburden them, the teachers were not asked to help out during the second year. The auction was smaller, but still raised $44,000 for the school. Snowdon would not predict what form the major CEF / CSA spring fundraiser will take next year, but she said, "It's a good bet we'll do the full auction in two years."

Snowdon also volunteered on CEF's Pig and Pepper fundraisers, held for many years in October on the Westford 4-H fairgrounds. The barbeque and country music festival attracted many people from outside Carlisle, but revenues were highly dependent on good weather. Snowdon felt that the core group of about a dozen volunteers worked just as hard putting on the auction as they did organizing the Pig and Pepper. The auction, however, requires fewer volunteers overall.

In addition to fundraising, the CSA coordinates volunteers to help with the school library, with classroom activities, and with lunchroom and playground monitoring. The CSA brings cultural enrichment programs like story-tellers to the school, and also publishes the student directory, the Husky Handbook.

The Carlisle Education Foundation is a non-profit organization formed in 1990 to raise money for new technology and educational programs. Later in the spring, CEF plans to hold a teacher appreciation fundraiser to raise money for classroom project supplies.

Both the CSA and CEF disburse grants to the school for new programs and equipment purchases. For instance, grants paid for the school's two mobile Mac labs. Each lab consists of a wheeled cart holding 25 iMac notebook computers and a printer. The cart moves easily from classroom to classroom, to be shared by many students. In the fall my fourth-grader used the Mac lab to practice keyboarding skills.

Both organizations seek to enhance the children's educational opportunities, rather than fund normal budget items. In practice, however, they have sometimes stepped in to maintain services that would otherwise be lost during years of tight finances. For instance, CEF funding helped in a pinch in 2002 to keep the school library open full time, while a CSA grant kept the chorus program from being eliminated.

Anyone who missed last week's auction can still help the CSA and CEF support the school. Contact Snowdon and Sobin to learn about opportunities for volunteering, or how to make a financial donation. For more details on the auction, see Cynthia Sorn's article and photos on page 13.

All aboard . . . to oblivion!

"There isn't a train I wouldn't take/No matter where it's going," wrote Edna St. Vincent Millay. I share her enthusiasm, but I do insist on knowing where it's going.

On a snowy February morning, I was waiting at the Route 128 Amtrak station for a train going to New York. Armed with a book, a New Yorker magazine, an apple, a bottle of water and a small wheeled suitcase, I was thrilled when the Acela's sleek bullet-nosed locomotive quietly slithered into the station. I headed far forward to the Quiet Car — no cell phones, no laptops, no iPods allowed — and plunked down into a plush seat. It would be all mine all the way, because no seatmate intruded on my peaceful domain.

I read, I dozed, I careened toward the café car, which I noted was several generations removed from the elegant restaurant on wheels that I remembered from a trip to New Orleans with my parents. I gazed at the scenery, especially around Mystic, Connecticut, where hundreds of boats in blue raincoats waited patiently for spring. In the Bronx, we left daylight behind, dove into the tunnel at 125th Street and pulled into Penn Station, right on schedule.

On the return trip two days later, the train had no Quiet Car. A cacophony of cell phone users surrounded me, all competing for my attention. I read, dozed, bought coffee and daydreamed my way back home, again sprawled over two plush seats. We were 25 minutes late into Route 128, and the conductor kept apologizing for the delay. Still, I was in love with Amtrak.

Just after my trip, I was startled to read that President Bush's 2006 budget would end federal subsidies for Amtrak. He would slash its operating budget from $1.2 billion in 2005 to zero in 2006. (The $1.2 billion is reportedly far less than 1% of the proposed 2006 Department of Defense budget.) A combination of privatization and greater state control would run Amtrak. How misguided, how foolish, I raged to myself. No rail system on the planet runs without government subsidy. More to the point, gas prices are now over $2 a gallon and rising, highways are congested, airlines are in and out of bankruptcy, and jet fuel costs are on the rise. Train travel is energy-efficient, hassle-free and often the only option for the car-less.

Despite increased ridership in the busy Northeast Corridor, Amtrak operates in the red, and always has, because of unprofitable rural routes in many states. The White House should increase Amtrak's subsidy rather than tip the system into bankruptcy.

News of Amtrak's demise may be premature. President Bush and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta are the principal supporters of a zero subsidy, but Congress has yet to weigh in. Amtrak has influential friends in Congress who are unlikely to leave it — and its passengers — stranded.

I'll be sending messages to those friends. If Edna were around, she would too.


2005 The Carlisle Mosquito