Friday, January 25, 2008
Carlisle School discusses impact of the zero growth budget
Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle presented the school's FY09 budget to the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) and an overflow crowd on January 16 at Town Hall. (The meeting was televised live on the public access channel.) Doyle's discussion started from a "level service" budget that includes an increase of $605,112, or 6.9% over the current FY08 budget, and described possible reductions in staff and services needed to reach the "zero growth" guideline issued by the Finance Committee (FinCom).
The largest components of the increase in the level service budget are the growth in salaries ($486,416) and the anticipated reduction in state funds ("circuit breaker" reimbursement, $88,517).
The FinCom guideline is issued to help the schools and town departments prepare budgets within the levy limit imposed by the state law known as Proposition 2-1/2. This year, according to the FinCom, fixed cost increases such as group insurance and the county retirement fund will use up most of the allowed 2-1/2% levy increase.
Doyle replied, "We are aware that the fiscal situation in Carlisle and the state is not very good right now. I also know we have an excellent school and what we're doing is working extremely well, and I am hesitant to say let's throw it all away."
Voters must approve an override in order for the property tax levy to rise by more than 2-1/2%. Committee member Michael Fitzgerald said the CSC expects to request an override. "Then the voters will decide," he added.
FinCom member Thornton Ash explained that if an override is requested, the FinCom will consider whether to recommend it. However, the final decision whether to put it on the Town Warrant will rest with the Selectmen, with whom the CSC is meeting on February 26. "The thing the Finance Committee is very concerned with this year: is this a never-ending escalation?" added Ash. "If we fund an override this year, what will it be next year?"
Enrollment and class sizes
Enrollment at the Carlisle School continues to decline (see Table 1). Over the past four years it has declined by about 75 children, and according to Doyle's presentation, 47 fewer students are expected next year.
The number of sections per grade varies according to the number of students as well as budget constraints. Doyle showed a chart with class sizes and proposed sections for next year under the zero growth budget (Table 2). Changes in enrollment will mean one less section for kindergarten and grade 3, as well as a new section added to grade 2. Doyle explained to the Mosquito later that the decrease in one section in Grade 6 "will happen due to insufficient funding, as I would recommend four sections at a class size of 19, rather than three sections with a class size of 26."
The current total average class size proposed for all grades will be 21 next year, which is the same as this year, even with three sections for grade 6.
Parent Bill Fink asked if the declining enrollment was reflected in the budget and would bring reduced costs. Doyle noted that the decline is spread throughout the nine grades, which will reduce the impact. However, it was not immediately clear whether the level service budget reflects the savings from eliminating one section of kindergarten.
Cuts prioritized into "tiers"
Doyle presented a list of possible reductions split into six tiers, or groupings. She noted that Tier 1 would be the first to be reinstated if override funds become available. Tier 1 cuts include four faculty positions in elementary world language, grade 6 classroom, language arts specialist and technology integration, with a total savings of about $215,000.
Tier 2 would reconfigure or eliminate three aides for a savings of about $81,000; Tier 3 lists additional reductions in special education and support staff and aides totaling $218,000; Tier 4 comprises roughly $20,500 in stipends; Tier 5 lists $26,500 in supplies and Tier 6 includes $44,000 in other expense items.
The specific items that would be removed or reinstated may be subject to change, both because it is early in the budget planning process, and because the school has the right to redistribute funding within its budget as needs change during a school year. For instance, Tier 3 includes $42,500 for a kindergarten teacher, though Doyle does not propose to reinstate it given the expected drop in enrollment.
Parent Kelly Driscoll noted the proposed staff reductions are coming primarily from the teachers and aides, and not from the administration or others at the school (Table 3).
Elementary foreign language
Fitzgerald asked if Doyle had met with the Carlisle Education Foundation (CEF) and the Carlisle School Association to request grant funds to continue the elementary foreign language program. He noted the $50,000 in grants received for three years from the CEF for the pilot program must be absorbed into next year's budget for the first time. He said the program is "a personal favorite of mine." Doyle said she spoke to both organizations, and requested they "hold funds temporarily until we determine what the budget situation is. We may go back to them and they could help us with supplies or other things so we may maintain our staffing level."
Technology, sixth grade
Carlisle School Librarian Sandy Kelly would become the media specialist, Doyle explained, to fill in for the projected loss of the technology integration specialist under the zero growth budget. Kelly would have two aides assigned to her to help teach computer skills. "It would stretch our librarian very thin," Doyle said.
CSC member Dale Ryder and several parents expressed concern about reducing the sixth-grade team to three teachers. Doyle agreed with the concerns, but said the sixth grade was the only class where a reduction was an option.
Ryder asked Director of Student Support Services Karen Slack if she saw "any economies" in reducing the number of guidance counselors/psychologists. The school has four, but two share a job. In the school's level service budget, the salary line for "guidance" shows a 13% increase, and the salary for "psychologist" has an 8.9% increase. CSC member Nicole Burkel asked Slack to clarify their responsibilities, and noted the testing they perform allows the school to avoid paying for outside testing services. Slack explained the three positions cover grades pre-K to 2, 3 to 5, and 6 to 8. All four are certified school psychologists, she added. They are "pretty much straight out with testing responsibilities, and working with families and students," she said. She explained the middle school psychologist is responsible for writing private school recommendations for eighth graders, noting it is a "hidden chunk under the guidance responsibilities." The staff runs the social skills and friendship groups, and is involved in a committee "that keeps on top of concerns before they become issues, that are student-related," added Slack.
The school officials planned to discuss the FY09 budget further with the FinCom on Wednesday, January 23, after the Mosquito goes to press.
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