Friday, February 15, 2008
Carlisle School cuts not enough to balance FY09 budget
Last week the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) trimmed about $100,000 off next year's budget, removing $56,000 for a special education teacher and $42,500 for a kindergarten teacher due to an expected drop in enrollment. But Finance Committee (FinCom) member Thornton Ash said he had hoped the school could come up with a bigger reduction to help balance the town's budget.
At their February 6 meeting, the CSC voted to approve the FY09 budget at $9,298,295, a 5.4% increase over this year. The proposed school budget is $481,612 higher than the current year.
Though FinCom recommended zero growth for the school's budget and for all town departments next year, due in part to the lack of new funds from housing growth, the school says its operating budget is over 80% salaries. Cutting the budget means cutting teaching staff and will lead to an increase in class sizes at the school.
School Committee Chair Nicole Burkel said the committee carefully weighed making further cuts to balance the budget against their belief in the importance of keeping class sizes small. One of the benefits of keeping a smaller staff-to-student ratio, she said, is that the school is able to catch student issues early.
The School Committee has identified potential cuts to the budget in tiers with Tier 1 as the most critical to the school's operation and Tier 6 as the least critical. (See"FinCom probes impact of Carlisle School's proposed FY09 cuts," February 1,
One of the cuts proposed for Tier 1 is a sixth-grade teacher, which would eliminate one of four current teachers in the current grade. This would bump up the sixth-grade class size next year from 19 to 26 students.
Nancy Cowan, a parent at the meeting, asked if the CSC had looked into reducing the number of administrative staff and school psychologists to cut the budget, a topic brought up by parents at a previous budget hearing in January.
Elementary Principal Patrice Hurley said, after extensive talks between the administration and the school committee, she does not think it is possible to eliminate one principal to save money. The school now operates with two principals for the nine grades in the system, with Hurley as principal for pre-k to grade 4, and Interim Principal Jim Halliday for grades 5-8.
Burkel agreed with Hurley, saying it is not unusual to see the principals staying late at the school most days. Director of Student Support Services Karen Slack spoke up to explain the three school psychologists/guidance counselors also do student testing as part of their job, saving the school from having to pay the cost of outside test services.
Enrollments are expected to drop by nearly 50 students next fall. This year's kindergarten class has 72 students. Next year's kindergarten class is estimated at 55 students, which is why one of the four kindergarten teaching positions was cut. Also this year's large eighth-grade class of 105 students will graduate and move up to high school.
According to an estimate provided by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC), there will be about 733 students enrolled next year. The figure is based on limited town growth, meaning the projection does not include growth from any large housing or affordable housing developments foreseeable in the next year. The number includes 710 students in grades K-8, plus 16 pre-kindergarten students at the Carlisle integrated preschool, plus the school's seven out-of-district student placements for special education. (In January, the school's budget presentation used a lower estimate of 703 K-8 students, plus the 16 in pre-kindergarten and seven out-of-district placements.)
High school budget
CSC member Michael Fitzgerald said the School Committee plans to discuss details of the budget with Selectmen, including an override request for the school. He brought up the town's free cash account and the possibility of the town making a transfer to subsidize the school operating budget. Ash said the free cash account has approximately $900,000 and the town must keep $600,000 in it to maintain a favorable bond rating. This allows the town to borrow money at a low rate of interest. He predicted next year's budget will likely be just as tough.
Fitzgerald, the School Committee's representative to the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS), said Carlisle's share of high school budget for next year is $250,000 over the Carlisle FinCom guideline. However, the high school budget increase is within the Concord FinCom's guideline budget. He said Carlisle will need to use free cash to cover the $250,000 budget overage or face a joint Town Meeting with Concord over the high school budget.
If the high school budget is put on an override request and the override fails in Carlisle, a joint Town Meeting is required. This type of Town Meeting would be an "exercise in futility," Fitzgerald said, because Concord has three times the population of Carlisle and can outvote the town. The end result would be that Carlisle must pay its share of the high school budget anyway.
Burkel, Chad Koski and Michael Fitzgerald voted to approve the Carlisle School budget with Dale Ryder and Wendell Sykes absent due to schedule conflicts.
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