Friday, June 13, 2008
Is there a better way?
The Carlisle School Committee’s recent decision to decline a conditional gift of $4,698 for the music program seems like a missed opportunity to encourage community support for the school.
The donation was offered by the Krapf family, who were concerned about the new fee for evening band and chorus. (Full disclosure: my child is one of the roughly 100 who participate in these programs.) The School Committee created the $45 fee this spring after Town Meeting approved a tight FY09 budget for the school.
While the fee is small, the Krapfs wrote to the School Committee, “We feel strongly there should be no barriers to entry to a traditionally strong point of the Carlisle curriculum. Even one child who cannot attend these activities because of tight family budgets is one child too many. We offer to underwrite the projected ’08-’09 deficit of $4,698 if the School Committee: A) votes to accept our donation specifically to support the band/chorus programs; and B) votes to reverse the levying of fees for the band/chorus programs.”
School Committee Chair Chad Koski does not remember the committee turning down any other donations in the past few years. He said the reason the committee declined the donation was not because it was directed for music. The school frequently accepts targeted donations, such as the recent funding from the Carlisle School Association to purchase books and other materials requested by curriculum coordinators.
Koski said the School Committee felt it was inappropriate to accept the Krapfs’ donation because it required the committee to rescind a previous vote, and they felt this would set a bad precedent. Was there a real danger from the precedent of accepting a private donation to cover a known budget shortfall? Good administrators often change their minds when better alternatives become available. Unlike most donations for specific purposes, however, in this case the gift was to eliminate a fee, and removing the fee could only be done by another School Committee vote.
This donation differed from most others in another way – accepting the gift would only have brought the school good will. It would not have added a dime to the school budget, since it would have only replaced the small “involuntary donations” of the families who will pay the fees next year.
It is not clear if the School Committee felt their hands would be tied in future years by accepting the money to cover next year’s program. The letter from the Krapfs did not mention a time frame, but Alex Krapf later told the Mosquito, “The condition only applied to fees levied in the upcoming school year, not to subsequent years. Nothing would have prevented the School Committee from levying these fees in ‘09-’10 if necessary.” ∆
A walk in the Woods
One of the many pleasures of life in Carlisle is the plethora of wooded spaces for quiet retreat. Upon our initial arrival in town, we took frequent advantage of local sites that are destinations for outdoor enthusiasts from across Massachusetts, if not the country. Great Brook Farm, for example, is one of the premier hiking sites in the Greater Boston area, enhanced during the summer months by its barn-housed ice cream stand. And during winter, its cross country ski trails are likely the best in eastern Massachusetts. Nearby, Walden Pond is legendary not merely in Massachusetts but worldwide.
We soon, however, became dimly aware of another place, seemingly known only to insiders: the Estabrook Woods. We learned relatively easily where they are, in a general sense. Straddling the Carlisle and Concord town lines, between Concord Street/Lowell Road and River Road/Monument Street, the core of the woods, about 670 acres in size, is owned by Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and serves as an important research site. An additional area of roughly equal size is owned by various private entities but subject to conservation restrictions. (A sizable additional area is owned by the Middlesex School without restriction; it was wholly undeveloped until recently, but that is another story.)
Despite the allure of the place, during our first several years in town our only significant excursion into the woods occurred as part of the annual Patriots Day dawn march from the town center to Minuteman National Historic Park. Our limited familiarity was not for want of curiosity or, for that matter, of initial effort. Our difficulty lay principally in the sheer size of the place, and the relative dearth of information about how best to enjoy it. We knew little about where to enter, where to go once inside, and (perhaps most importantly) how to find our way back out.
In about 1997 or 1998, two events opened the Woods for me. First, I discovered a map of trails, developed by the New England Orienteering Club. Second, my family gave me a mountain bike for Father’s Day. The map allowed me to navigate (somewhat) through the twists and turns of the maze of trails, and the bike allowed me to explore more deeply in a single excursion than my feet ever could. In addition, the bike let me explore with relative impunity, knowing that even when I got turned around and found myself on Monument Street, I could both find my way home and get there within a reasonable time.
My favorite entry points are at the northern and southern ends of the Estabrook Road, at the ends of the paved surface of the roads of the same name in both Concord and Carlisle. A less traveled entrance follows a trail leading from the Middlesex School campus, behind the school’s arts center. Another popular entrance is along Monument Street in Concord, more or less across the street from Hutchins Farm (look for the cluster of parked cars).
If you are looking to get off the beaten path, try a walk in the woods. And don’t stick only to the main trails – be brave, and venture off on some of the smaller footpaths. The first couple of times, though, it’s probably best to enter on a sunny day – if only to keep your bearings!
© 2008 The