The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 19, 2008

$110,000 needed to retain positions in FY10, Carlisle School tells FinCom

Superintendent Marie Doyle and members of the Carlisle School Committee met with the Finance Committee (FinCom) on December 8 for a preliminary review of the Carlisle School FY10 budget.

As reported last week, the school’s proposed budget to maintain level services in FY10 requested an increase of $268,500 or 3% over the current FY09 budget (Mosquito, December 12). However, the preliminary budget guideline issued by the FinCom in September asked for a zero-increase budget, which could mean several reductions at the school, including the loss of a school psychologist and ELA (English Language Arts) Literacy Specialist.

Additional information presented to the FinCom may bring the two budgets closer. An earlier agreement between the school and the Long Term Capital Requirements Committee (LTC), and a closer look at enrollment projections, has reduced the need for some staff and services next year.

Additional funds from LTC

In FY09, to retain teaching positions, $80,000 originally designated for computer purchases was shifted from the LTC budget to the CPS operating budget. The school then assumed that it would need to include funds for computer purchases in its operating budget for FY10. In a later phone conversation, School Finance Director Heidi Zimmerman explained that in fact the LTC’s FY10 budget includes $80,000 for this purpose. In addition, LTC will be providing an unexpected $20,000 for networking technology.

Lower enrollment reduces needs

Zimmerman also confirmed that, due to a projected reduction in enrollment of 26 students, a World Languages instructor, at $30,000, is no longer needed. Other expenditures totaling $48,785, including supplies and a part time speech and language teacher are no longer critical, and as Doyle noted in her presentation to the FinCom, “we assume will be gone.”

However, Doyle said that retaining the school psychologist, a $95,000 position, is the highest priority, with the ELA/Literacy Specialist at $44,000 a close second, “It would be fabulous to get those two back.” An additional $110,000 (over the zero-increase guideline) would allow these positions to be retained.

Average annual increases are 4%-5% per year

At the FinCom meeting, Doyle pointed to “a great team effort on the part of the community” to continue funding the school in difficult times. However she also noted that average school increases have been running 4 to 5% per year, and Carlisle’s increases have been “below or near this mark.” Last year CPS received only a 1.42% increase, requiring cuts in aides, stipends and supplies. Even this level required the LTC transfer of $80,000 and an additional $45,000 from Free Cash. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), in FY07 Carlisle was “pretty much in the middle” of its peer group of top-tier elementary and middle school in spending per student, at $13,122.

Belt-tightening not yet affecting quality

The quality of education remains high, according to Doyle. A chart comparing MCAS results for 22 of the top-tier comparable schools indicates Carlisle is still doing well. Doyle pointed to a dramatic improvement in math scores since the establishment of a math specialist five years ago. In 2008 Carlisle ranked first in fourth grade and seventh grade math, and third in eighth grade math. The school also placed well on other middle school MCAS exams, including first and second in eighth grade and seventh grade language arts. Some lower scores are seen in the elementary grades, but this is consistent with history, and does not seem to indicate educational deterioration. However, analysis has shown that Carlisle students could be doing better in open response type questions.

Doyle noted that Carlisle is now collaborating with Concord on improving language scores through their Columbia writing program. In return, Carlisle is offering ideas for raising math scores in Concord. Doyle also pointed to other program improvements, including staff development initiatives, technology investments, a new Bridge to Pathways program for transitioning special education students to the high school, and documented reductions in bullying.

Costs hard to control

Initiatives have also been taken to reduce costs. The school will eliminate one bus route next year, saving $50,000. Also being examined is a four-day full-time kindergarten which would allow further reductions in transportation. But other costs are difficult to control. Operation of the wastewater treatment plant costs $80,000 per year and is currently out to bid. SPED tuition and transportation increase 5% per year.

State aid assumptions

Communities have been warned that state Chapter 70 aid to schools will be cut in FY10. Currently the school receives $850,000, but, says Doyle, “All bets are off. Cuts could be pretty dramatic.”

In looking ahead, the school anticipates an FY11 level-services budget will require a 3.84% increase due to cuts in state aid.

New teachers contract

The three year teachers’ contract is under negotiation, and FinCom member Thornton Ash wondered, “Are givebacks on the table?” CSC member Chad Koski refused to answer, noting that under law, the negotiations can’t be discussed publicly. FinCom member Dave Guarino said that “a traditional concern [with the teachers contract] is that it will come back to us as a done deal” that the FinCom must fund no matter what else needs to be cut. However the addition of town Finance Director Larry Barton and Selectman John Williams to the negotiating team has helped assuage those concerns.

“Should the pain be shared?”

Ash then asked, “Should the pain be shared equally [among town departments)]or should there be some priority?” Koski said, “[The school] can’t continue to operate with zero percent increases. We would argue for overrides, not cuts.” Selectman Williams expressed his opinion that the pain should be shared. But CSC member Louis Salemy boldly proclaimed, “The school is the most important thing in the community” and “people will be blowing out of town” if they perceive a slippage in educational quality.

FinCom Chair Dave Model suggested more fees for sports might be an avenue to consider, but Koski noted there is only a $1,500 deficit in sports accounts and the fees are already high. Salemy said, “We’ve looked at this pretty hard” and concluded “we’ve gone as far as we can on fees.”

Salemy noted that an operating assumption in preparing the budget was that no new initiatives would be accepted. “A ton of stuff needs to be done that got whacked in response to reality.” He pointed to costs rising at 5% or more and asked, “How are we supposed to run a school going forward at zero to 2%?” FinCom member Dave Verrill responded that salaries are 82% of the budget, “Labor needs the most scrutiny, and this wasn’t done in the last contract.”

Model thanked the Carlisle School team, noting he was “very impressed” with the close adherence to the guideline. “I realize there’s a lot of pain behind these numbers,” he added.

FinCom looks at FY10 town budget assumptions

The FinCom then briefly discussed the town budget. It was noted that current assumptions include a 10% reduction in state aid, a 4% increase in the high school budget to meet Concord’s FinCom level, and $229,000 for capital expenditures. That would leave $100,000 in increases to be spread among departments at the levy limit (no-override) level. However, the Regional School Committee has proposed a higher high school budget, and the Concord FinCom has yet to respond. Under the regional agreement, Concord and Carlisle must pass consistent levels for the high school, and this could be an additional demand on Carlisle’s budget.

The FinCom will continue to meet with departments and plans to issue a final guideline in January. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito