Friday, March 10, 2006
Carlisle School asks for more
On March 6, the Carlisle Public Schools (CPS) appeared before the Finance Committee (FinCom) to defend a $168,000 request for FY07 funding above the $296,530 FinCom guideline increase issued in the fall. The FinCom was very receptive, with one member suggesting adding to the budget proposed, putting a School Committee member in the unusual position of defending the school budget against an increase.
Salary increases of $336,042 are the driving force behind the CPS request, due to a new teachers' contract soon to be signed. Teacher salaries will rise 5.5%, with salaries 84% of the total budget. Other cost increases include a proposed upgrade in administration and funding for two positions currently covered by grants.
Doyle noted the resignations of Principal Steve Goodwin and Assistant Principal Michael Giurlando at the end of this year offer an opportunity to improve administrative organization. The school is recommending hiring two co-principals, one of whom will have responsibility for grades K to 4 and the other for 5 to 8. Doyle said the faculty "strongly support the hiring of experienced administrators" as opposed to more junior assistant principals.
The new structure would provide clearer lines of authority and free the superintendent to attend to grants, hiring, planning, and "other things a superintendent should be doing." The employment of higher-level administrators would cost an additional $40,000 per year. Fincom member Barbara Bjornson suggested comparing Carlisle's cost of administration, at 11% of total salaries, with other towns, and Business Manager Steve Moore agreed to look at that.
Hiring teachers a concern
Although details of the teacher's contract are not yet public, a rational for competitive salaries was offered when the discussion focused on teacher turnover. Superintendent Marie Doyle noted that the CPS rate of 33% over three years is not unusual, as teacher turnover is "a state-wide trend due to early retirement incentives." Competitive pay is very important right now because everyone is trying to hire, and programs to train teachers or provide career shifts into teaching are only beginning to fill the need.
In addition, "we've become younger" so turnover results from "young teachers getting married and having children." Also, "The X generation is more mobile, more likely to move to California or go abroad for a year." Hiring has become a significant concern, although "the support teachers receive in Carlisle is a great advantage" in recruiting and keeping staff.
Moore outlined other costs. A technology aide is currently funded on a one-year basis by the Carlisle School Association and a math specialist is partly funded by a Title1 grant that the school will not be receiving in FY07. If not eliminated, these positions must be absorbed into the budget at a cost of $25,000 each. An English Language Learner (ELL) tutor is now required by the state at a cost of $15,000. A .2 FTE in World Languages will allow the teaching of Chinese from grades 5 to 8. The need to integrate 31 new teachers has raised the requirement for mentoring and professional development programs, so an additional $5,998 is requested for training in research, Open Circle, and managing diversity. Heat, transportation, electricity, and waste water treatment are all increasing, primarily due to rising energy costs.
Some good news
Unusually, there was happy news from special education. Although salaries in this department will rise 9.8%, the increase is offset by a reduction due to an out-placement that will be the responsibility of the high school next year. Moore warned, however, "We don't pad the budget (for SPED) 'in case'" a new student requires services. But in responding to a question about the future, SPED director Linda Stapp said "We don't see numbers going up right now" based on information from the early intervention program.
Other programs will be funded outside the budget. Spanish from kindergarten to fourth grade will be funded in FY07 by the Carlisle Education Foundation at a cost of $40,000 to $60,000. Currently foreign language starts in grade five. After school science and engineering programs will be self-funded through fees. The DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, which no longer receives state funding, will continue to be funded through private donations. The school decided to do without an early intervention aide as class sizes in the early grades will be down.
Guideline hard to reach
Although the school had been asked to present a guideline budget, Moore was at a loss where to cut. With salaries wired-in by contract representing 84% of the budget, even cuts of the technology aide, professional development, maintenance, and all supplies only netted about $95,000 of the $166,000 needed. Without reducing current programs or increasing class size (next year expected to be 20 students), the only possibility would be to hire inexperienced teachers (bachelors plus one year experience, as opposed to masters plus five years). However, given the need to hire a band director and middle school science and language arts teachers, "They're not out there (at a B1 level)"
selectman not as much
Response to the presentation by FinCom members was very positive. "It was a beautiful presentation," said Sue Wolfe. "Do we recommend the $166,000 or do we recommend more?" asked Barbara Bjornson "We have presented an appropriate budget based on our parameters," said school committee member Mike Fitzgerald, defending the budget as is. Chair Thornton Ashe noted the $40,000 increase in administration was "my target for reduction, but that quickly disappeared" based on the need outlined.
Selectman Doug Stevenson, who was present in the audience, was less convinced. "I have a concern with the overall increase in the CPS budget." He pointed to "flat or declining enrollment" (student population is expected to decrease from 795 in FY06 to 777 students in FY07) and "a windfall in special education" that did not seem to justify a 6% budget increase. Also, in spite of hiring new teachers, "I'm not seeing an overall decrease in the aggregate numbers" for salaries.
Override or not?
Ash agreed that "sustainability" of increases is a legitimate concern, but "It's very hard to find one line item to take out. We don't control the contract, and that's where the increases really come from." He suggested finding out "How do citizens feel about it? Lets put it on an override and see." "I don't think that's a good course, said Bjornson, noting that if the override fails, the school will have to make significant cuts. "People move here for the K to eight."
Fairness to CCHS?
Dave Model noted an implicit comfort with the CPS budget that had not existed with CCHS. "We have a high degree of confidence in CPS because we like the way they present information." But Fitzgerald defended the high school, "Last time you asked for information you had it within 24 to 48 hours." He asked that the high school be "treated fairly" and not put on an override while "service expansions" are absorbed in the levy-limit budget.
But a heated Sue Wolfe strongly disagreed that the high school should be allowed to "push out other things" and pointed to "a 5 FTE increase (at CCHS) in spite of flat or declining enrollment (Fitzgerald could not confirm or deny this number)."
Ash summarized the FinCom's reaction to the CPS budget, "The school is making qualitative improvements, and the recommendations are reasonable and incremental." A decision on how the increase will be funded, through levy limit budget or override, will be made this week.
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