Friday, September 29, 2006
New high school off the table when Concord, Carlisle officials confer
Four years ago, the towns of Carlisle and Concord voted different budgets for the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS), necessitating a special Carlisle Town Meeting to resolve the difference. Since that time, the two towns have pledged to work together more closely, and on September 21, the Concord and Carlisle Selectmen, Finance Committees, and Concord and Regional School Committees met to share plans and perspectives. In addition to comparing budget information, the ground was laid for future cooperation. However, although considerable time was devoted to a discussion of a plan for replacing Concord's Willard Elementary School, there was no discussion at all of a project dearer to many Carlisle hearts: the plan to replace CCHS with a new high school.
Reached at a later date, Carlisle Selectman Doug Stevenson responded to the sense at the meeting that the project to replace the Concord-Carlisle High School is on hold. "Unfortunately, in Concord the higher priority is the Willard School." While Carlisle's position is different, "as the junior partner, we don't get as much say." In Carlisle the chief concern is the loss of the estimated millions in repairs that may be needed to keep the old school going if it is not soon replaced. Concord, however, is already committed to paying off $60 million for rebuilding elementary schools, with another $30 million project in process, and for some time may find it difficult to take on a massive high school project. Stevenson noted the Carlisle Selectmen have spoken out on the issue in other forums and will continue to work with Concord to move up the start date for the high school if it can be done.
Healthy Carlisle looks to future expenses
Carlisle Selectman Doug Stevenson pronounced the Town of Carlisle "in good fiscal shape," noting the town's free cash was recently certified by the state for $1.3 million. Last spring a $150,000 override was passed which will raise this year's taxes by 2 percent and spending by 4 percent, and for the first time, the town budget exceeds $20 million. Looking forward to FY08, Stevenson pointed to the CCHS teacher's contract, currently in its last year, reduced enrollment at the Carlisle Public School, and reduced state reimbursement for school buildings (SBA) as areas that will likely provide financial challenges.
"There are many demands on the capital portion of our budget," said Stevenson. He noted Carlisle has formed a Capital Planning Committee to begin looking at a new high school that may cost $90 to $100 million, a building plan for Carlisle Public School which may run $20 to $40 million, and affordable housing. In addition, "we are in desperate need of playing fields." A plan for two Little League and one all-purpose field will be presented at the Carlisle Special Town Meeting October 30 and "we are cautiously optimistic" the plan will pass.
Concord deep in capital payments
Tony Logalbo, Chair of the Concord Finance Committee, characterized the picture for FY08 as "marginally better than where we started last year, but still not terrific." As currently projected, taxes in Concord would rise on average 5.5%. On the capital end, gross outstanding debt will rise from $30 million in FY06 to over $60 million in FY07 (or $3,500 per resident) with the addition of the Thoreau School bond to the outstanding Alcott School debt.
Concord may not wait for state aid
A presentation on the plan for replacing Concord's Willard Elementary School, approved at Concord's Spring Town Meeting,produced the surprising opinion that the new procedure for reimbursement under the state School Building Assistance Program is so cumbersome it could add three years to the project. Jerry Wedge of the Concord School Committee noted that the difference would entail a move-in date of September 2012 versus September 2009. As a result, the cost of the project to the town would not be less under the reimbursement program because rising construction costs would add $5 million and cost of interim repair and maintenance to the old building would add $3 million. The total of $8million is equal to the expected reimbursement if a 40% ratio is adopted, but the ratio could beas low as 32%. The School Committee is recommending to the Concord Selectmen that the project proceed on schedule, even this endangers the possibility of state reimbursement.
CCHS enrollment challenges program
John Flaherty, Director of Finance at CCHS, noted the enrollment this year is up by 20 students to 1,264. It is expected to rise to 1280 by the 08-09 school year, and should decline after that. Carlisle's FY08 assessment for the high school based on enrollment is expected to be 27.94%, an increase from 27.04% in FY07.
The high school continues to require capital investment, in spite of an eventual plan to replace the building. This year indoor and outdoor bleachers were added, fire door security was upgraded, science rooms were improved, and an emergency generator was added. The intercom system voters approved last spring cost $300,000 less that expected because usable phone wire was found in the walls. As a result, "both towns will see a savings," said Flaherty. For FY08, Flaherty expects to propose $1.24 million in capital spending for the high school to include a study of lower gym and main building roofing, $500,000 in improvement to the old vocational areas, $270,000 in energy control system upgrades, and to fund 40% of costs to refurbish a transportation and maintenance facility to serve both Concord and Concord/Carlisle school districts.
Mike Fitzgerald, Carlisle representative to the Regional School Committee, noted that classroom utilization at the high school is currently around 95 percent when 80 percent is optimum, and wondered how increasing enrollment will be dealt with. Superintendent Brenda Finn responded, "There is a pressing need for space and it's already affecting the program." She said electives are not being expanded because there is nowhere to teach them.
Fitzgerald noted the contract for the high school teachers union is in its final year and informal discussions have begun "so we can move forward in a much more professional manner than three years ago."
Both towns moving on playing fields
A plan was presented to expand the number of playing fields in Concord by adding two Little League diamonds, three all-purpose fields, and one new 90-foot baseball diamond. The all-purpose fields would be behind CCHS, and two would have artificial turf which can be used in the rain.The plan is for $3 million to be allocated at Concord Town Meeting in the spring, with half to come from CPA funds. Other fundraising would bring the total to $5 million. Although there had been some talk earlier of approaching Carlisle for funds, as the two towns share most sports programs, the idea was not mentioned at this meeting. Carlisle is now pursuing its own plan for playing fields on the Banta Davis land.
Susan Bates of the Concord Finance Committee provided the final comments on the upcoming FY08 budget, "we are moving toward a much more transparent process" and "will continue the information exchange."
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