Friday, November 23, 2007
Regional School Committee confronts budget shortfalls
Budget issues, present and future, consumed a major portion of the time and energy of the Concord-Carlisle Regional Committee on November 13.
FY08 budget shortfall
A 20% increase in SPED costs this year is due to 11 students who need out-of-district placements that hadn't been anticipated. Rigby said some of the students are new in town. Others had been accommodated in middle schools, but cannot handle the environment at the high school. Some have significant emotional issues and need residential placement. Director of Finance and Operations John Flaherty said these new out-of-district placements cost $874,000.
SPED costs change during the year as students move in and out or their needs change. For instance, Rigby said there have been decreases of $97,000 in SPED needs in the last two months so there is hope that other savings can be found. Also, the school district is applying for state funds to offset unanticipated SPED expenses, but won't know until spring whether or not it will receive any of those funds.
To balance this year's budget, Flaherty is considering a freeze on spending, reductions in the heating and utility accounts and a potential 50% cut in materials, but he warns "there is exposure to risk in doing this."
CCHS Principal Peter Badalament was asked what effect freezes would have on CCHS. The problem will affect not only this year, but next year's spending as well. "The problem is not insurmountable," he replied. He then went through a list of items that would and would not be affected. Fitness equipment will need repairs and maintenance. Musical instruments and the Language Lab will also need maintenance. Paper will be needed. Supplies for science labs will also be needed. The CCHS Library databases need to be maintained. Students taking photography will have to develop fewer photos because the Art Department buys photo chemicals throughout the year. Those doing ceramics will do fewer and smaller pieces and have less paint choices. But Badalament felt they could make it to June. Flaherty said, "If other funds come in, we could replenish some of the funding."
"In the longer term, we need to develop a strategy to handle situations like this (the large, unanticipated SPED costs)," said RSC Chair Michael Fitzgerald. "[Otherwise] it will bankrupt the district." Superintendent Brenda Finn said, "It is really a state level issue. That's where we get relief." Rigby said she would work to improve what could be offered in-house, so some students with out-of-district placements could return to the high school. She added, "We are not alone in this. The federal government should be more responsible. It is very difficult on small districts."
Preliminary FY09 budget
Flaherty presented a preliminary FY09 budget of $21.4 million which is 5% greater than the current (FY08) budget. This fits into Concord's levy limit but is well above the level-funded budget that Carlisle's Finance Committee is recommending. Roughly $900,000 would need to be cut from the FY09 high school budget, decreasing Carlisle's portion by $280,000, to arrive at the level of funding recommended by the Carlisle FinCom.
This budget is preliminary and all parties will be discussing it at length. It includes a 20% increase in Special Education costs, a 17% increase in fixed costs and a decrease of almost 2% in regular education. The increase in fixed costs is due to the $300,000 of debt that was added in FY07 and FY08 budgets that will now be bonded. Administrative costs will increase by 4.6% in this preliminary budget.
No RSC funding for ACE
RSC member Jerry Wedge confirmed that the RSC is not including any funding for Concord-Carlisle Adult and Community Education (ACE) in the FY09 budget, as recommended by the ACE Task Force. "Given the group made money last year and seeing that [FY09] is a severe budget year for the school, I don't see that it's a year to put money into a program that is already making money." RSC member Peter Fischelis agreed, "The program is self-sustaining. There is no immediate need to put money into it."
RSC and ACE Task Force member Becky Shannon stated that some people feel there have been significant cuts to the administrative staff and the surplus is due to the reduction of staff, but "that is not what the Task Force found." The RSC stated that they would consider increasing funds to ACE, but they do not see a need with a surplus from last year and a large revolving fund for ACE. Shannon asked ACE to give the Task Force recommendations time to work and to have faith that both towns care about this program. "Education enriches us all," she said.
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