Friday, April 25, 2008
FinCom reviews need for CCHS override
On April 14 the Finance Committee (FinCom) and school representatives met to discuss strategies for presenting the proposed override for Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) at Annual Town Meeting on May 5. The need for a $251,000 high school override will have to be well justified to voters in a year in which the Carlisle School is cutting staff and Town Hall departments are being held to no increase. But a large and unexpected rise in costs for special education (SPED), added to growth in the costs of benefits and debt service, means an override is necessary if CCHS is to maintain regular instruction at a constant level. The FinCom has voted unanimously to support the override.
Michael Fitzgerald, chair of the Regional School Committee (RSC), expressed his “significant concerns over whether [the override] will pass or not.” However, he noted some good news: there will be no request for a supplemental FY08 allocation to support the high school. Previously it had been expected Town Meeting voters would be presented with an FY08 bill as well as the override for FY09, because of an $800,000 overrun for outplacement of several special needs students. Through placement changes, a state grant request and belt-tightening measures, the school was able to cover or defer most of the costs. “We absorbed a significant hit,” said Fitzgerald.
Superintendent Brenda Finn noted that to avoid the supplemental request, the school took “almost dire measures” that included cutting back in FY07 as the problem was recognized, and carving away at other accounts, including a 50% reduction in materials and supply costs for FY07 and FY08. The school does not have many places to cut as the student population has grown 36% in the past decade “with only very moderate increases” in the budget during that time.Finn said that only in the past two years was CCHS finally catching up from cuts absorbed in 2004.
Of course the heightened SPED costs will continue into next year as well, prompting the need for the override. Finn noted that outside of these costs, the budget for regular education is slightly down in FY09. “We can make a very strong case for being very well fiscally managed this year,” she added. “The request is as modest as we could make it within program needs.”
Diana Rigby, who will be assuming the position of superintendent upon Finn’s retirement in June, said the school is looking at expanding programs at the high school to meet the needs of all SPED students. But many require therapeutic environments “for those who are a danger to themselves and others,” which are now obtained out of district. She noted she will continue to “work actively to reduce costs . . . within the constraints of what we’re allowed to do.”
According to information in the spring 2008 Regional School District Performance Report, the high school will receive approximately $1.8 million in aid from the state in FY09. In total dollars the aid has risen slightly since FY01, but it has fallen from 12% to 8%, as a percentage of the school budget. Per student, CCHS receives $1,473, slightly more than the $1,173 the Carlisle School is given. State aid ranges widely between school districts, varying from roughly $1,100 to $14,800, with an average of about $4,200.
Debt service is also an increasing part of the budget. Each year investments are being made in old buildings to keep them up to minimal standards while the communities wait to hear if the state will support a new school project. Fitzgerald expressed frustration at the lack of communication, “The region seems to have been put on a shelf.” He noted the school will not be able to put off roof replacements for long, and the towns may end up making a significant investment in buildings that will be torn down soon after.
Concord and Carlisle must reach agreement on the CCHS budget, to be split in accordance with the regional contract. In Concord, its share of the CCHS budget will be presented to its Town Meeting as part of the levy-limit budget, so no override of Proposition 2-1/2 will be needed. In Carlisle, an override is needed to fund its share. If the override fails in Carlisle, the two towns and RSC will have to work out their differences. In the worst case, a joint town meeting might be necessary to set the budget for the school. Fitzgerald noted a delayed process “would handcuff our spending” if not resolved by July 1, when the FY09 year begins. ∆
© 2008 The