The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 1, 2008


FinCom probes impact of Carlisle School's proposed FY09 cuts

As part of the continuing series of FY09 budget hearings held by the Carlisle Finance Committee (FinCom), Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle presented two versions of the operating budget for the 2009 fiscal year, on January 23. The "level service" budget, which retains all current personnel and programs, totals $9,396,795, an increase of $580,112, or 6.6%, over the current year FY08 budget. Doyle also presented a list of proposed cuts that would be necessary to bring expenses down to the zero-growth guideline budget requested by the FinCom.

After probing the impact of proposed cuts, the FinCom asked the school to return in late February with a budget proposal that is "sustainable" at a time of little or no growth in town revenues.

Enrollment decline

Contacted later, Carlisle School Business Director Heidi Zimmerman confirmed that enrollment at the Carlisle School is expected to drop next year, as the large eighth-grade class graduates and very few new families move into town. Current estimates drop the K-8 census from 750 in 2007-08 to 703 in 2008-09.

In addition, approximately 16 students are expected in the pre-kindergarten program and seven special education students will receive instruction out-of-district. The cost of the regular education pre-K program is covered by tuition. By law, pre-K special education is funded by the school budget.

Level service budget

Doyle briefly reviewed the additions ($625,579) and subtractions ($45,467) from the FY08 budget that drive the 6.6% increase in the FY09 level service budget (table 1 ). She pointed out that last week the Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee transferred $25,000 to the school to offset FY09 expenses. This dropped the FY09 budget increase from $605,000 (reported last week, Mosquito, January 25) to $580,000.

The largest components of the increase are the growth in salaries ($486,000) and the anticipated reduction in state reimbursement for special education ("circuit breaker," $88,500).

FY09 is the third and last year of the current teachers' contract, which includes a 3.9% cost of living increase. Most teachers also qualify for a step increase (one additional year of service) of 1%, a lane change increase (additional courses or new degree), or a stipend for additional duties. Zimmerman later told the Mosquito that the level service budget includes one kindergarten teacher and one special education teacher that will not be needed in FY09 due to a drop in school enrollment and the consequent reduction in class sections. Director of Student Support Services Karen Slack confirmed that up to two special education aides can be cut. These cuts would not increase class size next year.

Impact of proposed cuts

With an understanding that the FinCom and the town are unlikely to approve the entire level service budget at a time of severe fiscal constraints, Doyle presented a list of proposed cuts, ordered into six tiers according to priority (Table 2). Throughout the discussion of proposed cuts FinCom Chair Dave Model repeatedly asked Doyle to discuss the long-term impact of the cut item and how the school proposes to deal without the position or service.

Doyle indicated that Tier 6 cuts of $19,000, lowest in priority, will cause little pain.

Looking at the proposed $26,500 Tier 5 cuts in supplies, Model asked, "Are we creating a FY10 problem?" "We will be OK," replied Doyle.

Tier 4 cuts, reducing another $20,600, will eliminate stipends for teachers who become coordinators for specific subject areas. How this will impact the school? "At this level we start to lose," said Doyle. "We will lose teacher leaders who bring a different perspective. . . .The coordinators in different school systems meet together, and we will be losing this."

"So why is it at Tier 5? Should it be higher [priority]?" asked Model. "We feel we can transfer this to the principals," said Doyle.

"We are facing staff cuts versus getting the teachers to do more. How do the teachers feel?" probed Model. Carlisle School Committee Chair Nicole Burkel answered, "They have a contract and Marie and I can't speak for them."

Tiers 3 and 2 involve cutting teacher and aide positions, for a total reduction of $298,700. The drop in school census will make it feasible to cut one kindergarten teacher ($42,500), one special education teacher ($56,000) and two special education aides ($40,000). However, cutting a reading tutor and library aide will be "more of a loss," said Doyle.

Cutting the half-time custodian position ($18,000) will affect community use of the school, particularly the Recreation Commission, said Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds David Flannery. Currently a fee is assessed for weekend use of school facilities, but not weeknight use. Model suggested that fees should cover all "direct and indirect cost when outside the educational mission."

Eliminating Tier 2 aide positions will not cut important programs, said Doyle, but she pleaded to restore one aide position that can be reconfigured to help out in critical areas.

The pain of Tier 1 cuts

The real pain comes with Tier 1 cuts, including the world language program in elementary grades, one grade 6 teacher, a language arts specialist and a technology integration specialist, for a total of $215,000.

"The Massachusetts Superintendent of Schools has recommended that all public elementary schools should have a world language program and an Asian program," said Doyle, "and we have both. We should showcase this — if you want to sell houses in Carlisle." Burkel reminded the group that the Carlisle Education Foundation (CEF) funded the program for two years, but that the cost ($60,000) must now be borne by the operating budget.

"We are not mandated to have world languages," said Model. "Can we charge for this?" The school can't charge for any programs running during the school day, responded Burkel. Others pointed out that a lot of work has gone into these programs and it would not be easy to reinstate them once dismantled.

The loss of a grade 6 teacher will increase class size from 21 to 26 students, something neither the school nor parents were ready to accept.

"Super-duper scrubbed budget"

At the end of the meeting Model complimented Doyle on a "good list." He then asked the school to return in late February with a final budget proposal. "Take the upper half of the list and see what those positions are doing and propose how to manage going forward [with fewer resources]," he said.

FinCom member Ed Sullivan pointed out, "If you look at the salary increases versus Proposition 2-1/2, you will need an override every year." Member Thornton Ash added, "I'd like to see a super-duper scrubbed budget that is sustainable. We need a multiyear budget and a very thorough discussion of how we get the most bang for the buck."

Proposition 2-1/2 is a Massachusetts law that limits the growth in the property tax levy to 2-1/2% per year. Additional taxes must be authorized by a vote of Town Meeting to override Proposition 2-1/2.

2008 The Carlisle Mosquito