Friday, March 9, 2007
Carlisle School withdraws design request
as Town faces $245,682 override
On March 6, the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee (FinCom) met to finalize the Warrant for Town Meeting April 30. They concluded that one override of $245,682 will be offered which will include $150,000 for the Carlisle Public School (CPS). This is a significant reduction from what the school says it needs to maintain services, and even if the override passes, staff cuts will be necessary, according to Superintendent Marie Doyle.
The FinCom had received over $500,000 in requests for items outside the 2.9% increase allowed under the levy-limit budget, the budget that would go into effect if no overrides were passed. It had chosen to take $56,000 off the top by recommending a Free Cash transfer to cover Carlisle's share of the CCHS overage and meet Concord's budget for the high school. It had then grouped the remaining requests into four categories: Priorities 1 to 3, and a "not recommended" group. The CPS request for $240,000 was reduced to $150,000, of which $100,000 was "Priority 1" and $50,000 "Priority 3." Although the recently-released governor's budget provides $52,000 more in state funds than expected, FinCom Chair Thornton Ash noted his committee has decided not to count on that money as the state budget process has just begun.
The Selectmen started the discussion Tuesday by grouping the first two priority categories into one override amount totaling $183,627 and the third priority into a second override of $62,055. The first contained wages for police training ($12,530), staffing for fire ($9,757), communications ($5,256), and COA ($18,831) workers, as well as the $100,000 for CPS. An item to fund an actuarial report detailing the town's on-going benefits exposure, required by the state in June 2009, will cost $12,000, and Finance Director Larry Barton defended the need to get started now. The second override group, in addition to the extra $50,000 for CPS, contained about $7,000 for fire and communications supplies, training, and repairs, as well as about $5,000 to support the Gleason Library and continue Saturday summer hours.
One override or two?
Marie Doyle spoke in support of elevating the whole $150,000 for the school to the highest override level. She noted "We're already laying off teachers" even before these additional reductions. She was in favor of mixing the school override(s) with other town services, and BOS Chair Doug Stevenson agreed, "If we do separate overrides we're pitting the school against the town and we'd like to avoid that if possible."
Stevenson suggested one override level might be better than two because it would avoid voter confusion. In addition, he noted the tendency among voters, when given a choice, is to vote down the higher level as a way of "not supporting extravagance." "Often the top tier fails and the middle passes. We must prepare if we put two out, one might fail." However he feared the total of the two at $245,682 "is a pretty significant override," and might push the limits of what would easily pass at Town Meeting.
FinCom member Dave Trask shared that fear, and pointed out that if the $245,682 override and all capital warrant items pass, taxes will rise an average of 7.6% next year. "The danger of failing if we go with one lump sum is too high." Barton noted most of this increase is due to the loss of $320,000 in state school building payments that ended this year, and that even without the override or any capital exclusions, taxes would rise 5.3%. "That 3.2% (from the funding loss) is off the table. We will not see another 7.6% increase" once the adjustment is made this year.
Operating costs still growing
Tim Hult said, "I'm an advocate of one override" that communicates to the town what's needed to keep services. But, he added, "We're not getting at the reality of expense growth in the difference between $183,000 and $245,000." Ash agreed, "The schools make a persuasive case, but our concern is the rate of growth. How do we slow this down? We have to start making some of the hard decisions or it just gets harder next year."
Dave Model reminded the group that the recent presentation by the Long Term Planning Committee had pointed out "We need to change the slope of the line" that indicates rising operating costs. "That slope is not sustainable over 15 years" if the town wants to invest in school buildings, community centers, and affordable housing.
Carlisle School Committee (CSC) member Nicole Burkel said the school is concerned with skyrocketing costs, but many expenses are contractual or legal and can not be stopped dead. "We are making adjustments over time." CSC member Wendell Sykes made the point that declining federal and state taxes are being reflected in higher local taxes to make up for lost revenue. "You squeeze the balloon at one end, it will bulge at the other."
Faced with the concern the school might not be successful asking for both an override and $3 million in design funds for the school building project, Doyle removed the design fund request from consideration. "We will delay the warrant until fall. That will give us more time to prepare and educate the public." Smiling, she asked, "Now can we have the 150?"
The voters will decide, as the Selectmen voted three to two to support one override level of $245,684, including $150,000 for CPS.
© 2007 The