The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 30, 2009

$700,000 of CCHS budget may shift to Carlisle in FY11

Spike to end in FY15

As if a faltering economy, reduced tax revenue and cuts in state funding were not enough, Carlisle will soon have another financial hurdle to overcome. A large jump in the town’s assessment for the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) is expected due to a spike in the proportion of Carlisle-to-Concord students (see Table 1 on page 6). Even if the CCHS operating budget stays flat, by FY11 (starting in July 2010), Carlisle taxpayers could be billed for as much as $700,000 more per year as costs shift from one town to the other. Add in budgetary increases, and Carlisle could be looking to fund an additional $800,000 to $1 million each year for the high school, noted Carlisle School Committee (CSC) member Louis Salemy at a January 21 meeting. The assessment ratio is projected to stay in the same ballpark for four years, dropping back to 28.15% in FY15.

Under the regional agreement, the towns of Concord and Carlisle split the bill for the high school based on the number of students each town sends as of the previous October. In recent years, Carlisle’s percentage of the budget, or assessment ratio, has hovered around 28%, and for the current year (FY10), it is 28.73%. According to the New England School Development Council (NESDC), an independent organization employed by the state, in October 2009, the number of Carlisle students will rise to 365 (from 335 the year before), while Concord’s numbers drop from 831 to 766. This shift in ratio affects the following fiscal year, FY11, inflating Carlisle’ percentage of the budget to 32.27%.

Each percentage change means about a $200,000 shift of budget obligation. The 3.5% difference will therefore entail about a $700,000 increase for Carlisle and reduction for Concord.

Will Concord agree to tight budgets?

If enrollment projections hold, Carlisle taxpayers will soon pay 12.3% more while Concord taxpayers pay 5% less. Will Concord officials feel the need to constrain a high school budget that is decreasing for their own taxpayers? Both towns must approve the same budget for the high school, but Carlisle has usually followed Concord’s lead in order to avoid a mismatch that could require a joint Town Meeting to resolve. But with the financial impacts very different for the two towns, what’s good for Concord may no longer be good for Carlisle.

Mitigating factors

Several factors could temper the enrollment effect, says CCRSD Director of Finance and Operations John Flaherty. “I think the bump is a little less severe than what is showing” on the chart, he says. His office has requested that NESDEC update their projections, which are now one year old, and he points to the “fairly sizable increase in the amount of building permits” in Concord, which could raise the Concord high school population and soften the assessment shift. In addition, “I don’t think Carlisle is going to send the amount of kids” projected, as each year a number of students choose to attend private high schools. On the other hand, “the economic slowdown could increase the amount of kids at the high school” as families opt for the low-cost option.

The Finance Committee (FinCom) has proposed to the Selectmen that every effort be made to build the town’s reserves and rein in operating costs in preparation for demands at the high school. Chair Dave Model admits, “We should have done it years ago,” but immediate needs have always taken priority. Departments have been asked to spend under-budget, but with state aid reductions, it is unlikely that much will be saved this year for reserves.

One piece of good news is that enrollments are dropping in the elementary and middle schools as the rolling wave of boomlets moves on to the high school (see Tables 2 and 3). Carlisle School FY09 population will be 100 students less than in FY03.

However, expecting expenses to decrease may be unrealistic; this year the Carlisle School is requesting a $140,000 increase above the guideline no-growth budget in order to fund two new positions to help manage rising special education and English language needs.

At the FinCom meeting Monday, Model expressed cautious optimism that a plan currently under consideration by the CSC might solve some long-term budget problems. (See articles on page 1.) The Department of Education has informed the CSC that merging certain administrative functions, including superintendent, business manager, and SPED director, with the Concord Public Schools and CCRSD could save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. “This is the biggest bang for the buck of the things in front of us,” said Model. Selectman Doug Stevenson noted that if the school committees of the two towns agree on a plan, they have the authority to move ahead, but will not do so without BOS approval. “The School Committee’s not looking to be out on a limb,” he added. The FinCom will attend the CSC meeting on Wednesday, February 4, to meet to begin discussing the financial implications. ∆


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