The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 14, 2007

News

The Carlisle School has weathered many storms

The Carlisle teacher's vote of "no confidence" in Superintendent Marie Doyle taken last spring is the first such vote in the history of the school system. However, other problems through the years have tested the school administrators, at times redefining leadership roles and responsibilities. A look at past challenges may offer perspective on the issues currently facing the school.

A different world

In the 1940s Carlisle's woodsy location was not protection from the overwhelming effects of WWII. From 1941 to 1947 the school lost men and women staff members to enlistment, other war-time jobs, and because gas rationing made commuting difficult for out-of-town employees. To save money the school hired a combined principal/teacher/custodian. It was so hard to keep teachers that the state suggested the school close until the war was over. The school remained open but replaced 75% of its teaching staff every year until around 1947.

After WWII

Between 1947 and 1952 the School Committee pleaded with the town to raise the teachers' salaries to competitive levels, according to the town's Annual Reports. After the teachers joined the Massachusetts Teachers Association in 1959, salaries were raised to meet the "minimum Massachusetts" level.

Union School District

and open classrooms

Before 1974, the Carlisle School belonged to the Union 47 School District along with Harvard, Littleton, Stow and Bolton, and shared a single superintendent. The day-to-day leadership was administered by a "teacher/principal," while the bills were handled by the Union.

The principal/teacher in 1969, Hugh Mill, was a proponent of the "open classrooms" educational structure where children from two or more grades shared a classroom. The Robbins building, finished in 1971, was designed specifically for open classrooms with large spaces to house multi-grade classes, or "family groups" (it has since been remodeled to single classrooms). In 1973 there were seven multi-grade classes combining grades 1, 2, 3, grades 2, 3, 4, and grades 3, 4; and a single-grade classroom (called "self-contained") for each grade. Some families preferred the open classroom system, while others found it difficult, and Mill created a parent advisory group as communication vehicle for parents.

Rocky separation from the Union

The CSC began preparations for the school's separation from the Union and in 1972 Mill's title was changed from "principal/teacher" to "associate superintendent." According to the Mosquito (12/20/72) Mill and the new Vice-Principal Robert Brinkman were not comfortable with the changes. The paper notes that "a record 21 observers" attended the School Committee meeting when the changes were voted. At the same meeting, the CSC trimmed teacher salaries, and dropped the French program which had been introduced just two years previously. When he was ordered to increase the teacher/student ratio in kindergarten by transferring a teacher to another grade, Mill refused. In 1973 the CSC decided to cut 1-1/2 staff positions. Their contract negotiations with the teachers took over two years and were settled in mediation.

The transition from the Union to an independent school district involved another administrative restructure, begun by the School Committee in the spring of 1974. With a split vote of 3-2 they kept Mill and Brinkman, but the CSC stepped into the teacher hiring process, reviewing all candidates. The school committee also formed a four-member committee (two CSC members, Mill and Brinkman) to study school recruitment procedures. One outcome of the study was to require the administration to submit to the CSC at least three candidates for each staff opening.

In June of 1974 the CSC began to phase out open classrooms, voting to reduce the family groups, while increasing the number of self-contained classrooms.

Mill submitted his resignation in July of 1974, and during an August CSC meeting some observers accused the CSC of driving Mill out. Long-time teacher Marguerite Grant was named as acting superintendent/principal. In October the CSC changed the administrative structure to one superintendent/principal and one administrative assistant. Brinkman resigned a month later. In January, 1975, James Van Amburg was hired as the new superintendent/principal. The transition from a school in the Union to a locally administrated district had been completed, but not without difficulty.

Before Proposition 2-1/2

Before 1980, the School Committee had "fiscal autonomy," meaning they could develop a school budget without having to adhere to the town Finance Committee (FinCom) guidelines. The FinCom did not always examine the school's budget, and it was not voted on or approved at Town Meetings. Generally, the School Committee cooperated with the FinCom's recommendations, but not always.

In 1979, the school committee requested a 9% budget increase, while the FinCom called for budget increases of 5%. The 9% increase was granted and Latin was added to the school. In April of 1979 Van Amburg resigned, one year shy of his contract. Before he resigned, Van Amburg, with approval from the School Committee, gave all teachers, including first-year teachers, tenure. Committee members praised him for his work, saying he has left "a well established and well controlled entity." Matt King was hired as Carlisle's next superintendent.

When Massachusetts voters passed Proposition 2-1/2 in 1980, property tax increases were restricted. Any increase in property taxes over 2-1/2% had to be approved by town vote to override the levy limit. Proposition 2-1/2 also ended the school's fiscal autonomy. Still, there was strong growth in the US economy during the first half of the 1980s, and the school enjoyed many years of support. Overrides were consistently passed.

Reduced state aid

In 1989 a new three-year teacher contract was negotiated. However, the state government experienced severe budget shortfalls, drastically cutting aid to towns that year. In May, Superintendent King gave his resignation, accepting an offer from Lincoln-Sudbury schools. Vincent Simone was hired as Carlisle's next school superintendent.

Override failure of 1990

In the spring of 1990 the town defeated an override request of $650,000, with the school's portion being $500,000.

Overnight, it seemed, the atmosphere at the school changed. The teachers felt "disregarded and discarded," reported the Mosquito on May 18. To make up for the loss in funding, the school took drastic measures by cutting 16 teachers for the 1990-91 school year, closing the school library, adding fees for sports and music lessons, increasing class sizes (some to 26 students), adding building usage fees, cutting custodians, cutting the foreign language program, cutting cultural enrichment, combining two elementary grades into one classroom, and cutting school supplies and curriculum materials.

In response, the Carlisle Education Foundation (CEF) was established in May, pledging $60,000 in support for the Carlisle School. The CEF was instrumental in re-opening the school library. Donations by the Carlisle School Association (CSA) helped compensate for cuts in the cultural enrichment funding.

Recovery

In 1991 the town approved a much smaller override request and teachers agreed to reopen their contract and accept a decline of 6% in their salary increases. Simone resigned in June, and Assistant Superintendent/Principal Davida Fox-Melanson was named superintendent/principal in 1992. State aid to towns was slowly increased, and by 1994 the CSC reported that the schools "are currently experiencing one of their finest years."

Overrides return

Between the years 1998 and 2001 the school's share of town overrides was $97,000, $53,987, $80,000, and $150,000, respectively.

The economy was strong when Carlisle teachers received a new contract in 2001. Although a sharp downward turn in the economy followed with 9/11, the school still had to fill its obligation to the teachers, some of whom would receive up to a 9% increase.

2002 override defeat

Noting that major cuts would occur at the Carlisle School without an override, Superintendent Fox-Melanson commented in March of 2002, "This is a school that we have spent nine years bringing back. Remember when I came here, what we did not have."

The town proposed an override, of which the school's portion was $199,417.

Two groups formed to educate voters about the override before the May 14 election. The "Carlisle Coalition," consisting mostly of Carlisle School parents, urged passage of the override and contacted primarily the school community, while the "Carlisle Committee for Tax Fairness" advised against the passage of the override. The Tax Fairness committee placed ads in the Mosquito, campaigned at the transfer station, and erected "No Tax Override" signs. Voters, wondering if the town could continue to support what was then called a "Rolls Royce" of schools, voted down the override by 856 to 689.

Once again the school had to make drastic changes. The CSC meeting voted for new fees including $350 per child for afternoon Kindergarten, $365 for bus transportation for seventh- and eighth-graders, and cuts in many areas (including technology, the teacher mentor programs, fifth-grade language, middle school teaching assistants, student choruses, one reading specialist, permanent substitutes, one health position, and teacher stipends for yearbook, student council, math league, team leader and curriculum coordinator). In addition, the school library and custodial staff were to be reduced. Donations from the CEF and CSA restored some of the programs.

Though the Selectmen planned to call a Special Town Meeting to vote on a limited override, the CSC chose not to request funds at that time. Former CSC member Paul Morrison noted, "I interpret, by the failure of the override vote, that the town said the school can cut back. We seem to be the lightning rod for the town's dissatisfaction. We need to hear that and reestablish trust in the town."

The school did not request an override again until 2005, when $75,000 was easily approved.

[The historical information for this article came from the Mosquito archives and Carlisle Annual Reports.]


2007 The Carlisle Mosquito