Friday, December 21, 2007
Override needed to fund CCHS?
The Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) on December 11 approved a FY09 budget for the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) that will require an increased contribution from Carlisle of $280,000. Chair Michael Fitzgerald said he thought Carlisle might need an override in the $150,000 to $250,000 range to finance the increase, though he is hoping Carlisle will be able to use Free Cash reserves to keep the override closer to $150,000. It is called the "preliminary needs budget," but Fitzgerald explained that it will "basically" maintain level services at the high school.
Additional CCHS override?
The RSC also noted that it might be necessary to request override funding to help cover part of the $874,000 of unanticipated costs that were incurred this year, primarily by about a dozen new out-of-district special education (SPED) placements. Because it will not be immediately clear if belt-tightening measures will be sufficient, the RSC does not yet know if more funding will be needed from the towns to balance the FY08 budget.
Forces driving CCHS budget
The largest single component of the budget growth is from the above-mentioned jump in special education costs. The SPED component in the FY09 budget is $824,000 above the initial amount approved for SPED last spring, although it is about $50,000 less than the final FY08 SPED budget.
Another big factor in the high school budget is a jump in fixed costs, which are up almost $500,000. Fitzgerald said that roughly $300,000 of that is from debt service. Insurance and retirement expenses were among other increased fixed costs. The CCHS administrative costs are rising about 2% while the allocation for regular education dropped by almost 2%.
Facilities improvements postponed
After discussion, the RSC chose to postpone most building improvements because of Carlisle's budget constraints, and the committee will not seek additional funding for capital projects in FY09.
Several projects had been previously planned, including new roofs on the gyms, replacement of the wall of windows in the cafeteria, additions to the fire safety system, more energy-efficient lights, auditorium curtains and the addition of airconditioning to the music room.
However, the roof has been evaluated and the RSC decided that with a few repairs, it should last until FY10. Facilities Manager Dave Anderson spoke with John Flaherty before the meeting and felt the additions to the fire alarm system are not a necessity because fire safety has already been greatly improved over the last two years. The auditorium curtains have been treated with fire retardants. Flaherty said, "We will find workable solutions within the budget."
Later, Fitzgerald commented that, "Nothing was that critical that it could not be dealt with in FY10 rather than FY09." He felt that the improvements that were made over the last couple of years have been significant.
Another reason to postpone capital projects, he said, is to first learn more from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) regarding the district's application for state aid for replacement or major renovation to the high school. Earlier this month, MSBA decided on 83 schools (including the Carlisle Public School) to move into the next phase in the process for potential funding. Although the high school did not make this initial list of schools now being considered for funds, it was defined as a "hold" project. CCHS Superintendent Brenda Finn said the MSBA would not answer questions about CCHS until February.
If the existing building will be kept awhile, then Fitzgerald suggested the high school "might be looking at a $5 million capital plan" to include the roofs as well as fire protection, air handlers and possibly additional portable classrooms in the FY10 time frame, with $1 million in projects for FY11, $1.1 million in FY12 and $1.5 million in FY13. Fitzgerald noted the RSC wants to coordinate projects closely with MSBA, "It's not our intent to go out and spend $3.5 million on new roofs and then go and possibly tear it down."
CCHS budget details
The total Regional School District budget of approximately $21,377,000 includes the operating budget as well as debt service costs for past facility improvements that have already been approved by Carlisle and Concord voters. A total of $2,445,000 in high school capital projects have been approved over the past couple of years. Fitzgerald explained that the RSC first used short-term borrowing to pay for the projects, which have been completed. Two weeks ago, the RSC converted the debt to long-term bonds, and the interest and principal will be assessed to the towns annually, based on the student enrollment ratio. Of Carlisle's $5,295,000 expected assessment for CCHS in FY09, $272,000 represents debt expenses excluded from the levy limit.
While the total district budget has risen 5%, the CCHS operating budget portion has increased a more modest 3.7%. Concord, with its greater diversity in real estate, has a growing tax base and will not need an override for the high school operating budget.
Because of increases in non-negotiable municipal expenses, coupled with a stagnant revenue stream, the Carlisle Finance Committee (FinCom) has set a 0%-increase guideline for town department and school budgets for FY09 to keep the overall town budget within the levy limit. The state statute known as "Proposition 2-1/2" limits the total growth in a town's real estate tax levy to 2-1/2% per year unless voters approve an override.
From FinCom discussions it appears that up to $300,000 may be available from Free Cash. The town currently has $900,000 in Free Cash, but the FinCom would like a minimum balance kept of about $600,000.
To reduce the assessment to the two towns, the CCHS budget includes the use of $172,000 from the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District's Excess and Deficiency (E&D) Account. The E&D Account is similar to a town's free cash account, although it has restrictions. Director of Operations and Finance John Flaherty said, "This is a significant amount. It demonstrates the Regional School District is doing its part to shoulder the burden" of the cost increases.
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