The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 30, 2009

Opinions

Is a superintendency union needed?

Eliminating the Carlisle School’s administrative personnel by means of a superintendency union with Concord is a big step. The Carlisle School Committee (CSC) is looking at sharing a superintendent, business manager, Director of Special Education and other administrative staff. Once gone, it would not be easy to rebuild the local administration if Carlisle later decided the union was not advantageous. It is therefore important that the ramifications are studied carefully before any decision is made.

Town officials, parents and other citizens attended the CSC meeting last week at what was the first public discussion of the topic. Repeatedly, people stated that the idea was worth serious investigation and thanked the school committee for trying to curb costs. However, many expressed concern that haste might lead the CSC to adopt a plan that ultimately costs the town money and/or reduces the quality of education for Carlisle’s children. (See “CSC fields questions on superintendency union proposal,” page 1.)

Many questions have not yet been fully answered, including:

• Is it cost effective? Have the long-term finances been adequately studied?

A spike in Carlisle’s assessment at the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) in FY11 is cited as one reason for the merger. Carlisle’s share of the CCHS budget is expected to grow by about $700,000. However, the jump is caused by a short-term bubble in Carlisle’s enrollment and in a few years our assessment will return to present or lower levels. Declining enrollments at the Carlisle School may also affect the number of teachers needed in coming years (see tables, page 6). While the state’s economic crisis is serious, similar state shortfalls in the 1990s were short-lived.

Under the proposal the costs of shared personnel will be split by the towns, as will the savings from Carlisle’s layoffs. However, the savings may not be as high as expected. Superintendent Doyle is currently interviewing for a new job in Belmont, but she has a year and a half left on her contract here. If Carlisle terminates her contract early, she may be due over $150,000 in salary and severance payments. Unemployment insurance payments for other laid-off administrators will also add up. Would these costs be shared by the superintendency union, or be Carlisle’s sole responsibility?

Long-term, Carlisle faces a real challenge in supporting rising employee salaries with a small tax base. This problem will continue, however, because in any shared school system Carlisle will still have to pay its portion of the rising costs.

• Have alternatives been evaluated? Once a detailed estimate of the proposal’s financial impact is known, it can be better compared with other options.

• Is it desirable? What will be the cost to the educational program? Concord has a very good school system. However, a merger should be structured carefully to ensure that moving things like budget planning, student support services, computer and facilities management to Concord will not degrade the quality of the school.

• What are the side-effects? Does the Carlisle School enjoy better fire and emergency medical service because Fire Chief David Flannery works in town? That might change if his position as the Carlisle School Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds is eliminated during the merger.

• How will this affect the teachers’ contract negotiations? Will it remove the pressure to bargain? The CSC is currently negotiating a new agreement with the Carlisle School teachers and guaranteed salary increases drive much of the growth in the school’s budget.

• What is the impact on the school’s building project? It was noted at the meeting that if Carlisle moves administrative functions to Concord, the state may not support the inclusion of administrative rooms in the school building plan. This may create problems down the road if Carlisle decided to leave the superintendency union, as it left a previous union in the early 1970s.

Many were surprised that the School Committee can make a decision of this magnitude without any formal requirement for review by the Finance Committee, the Board of Selectmen or Town Meeting. School Committee members are elected to serve the town by overseeing the school and superintendent. They are dedicated volunteers, but they should feel comfortable asking for advice as they consider this major decision. As a first step, they listened to public comments at their January 21 meeting. It has been suggested that the School Committee also invite an advisory group with expertise in finance and education to help provide a detailed cost/benefit analysis before the CSC votes on the merger. Additional research may answer some of the questions and increase confidence in the final decision. It would be time and effort well spent. ∆

Uneasy in Carlisle

Scribblers of these Forum essays are free to write about anything they please so long as it has some relevance to Carlisle. But as I cast about for a subject, scanning recent issues of the Mosquito for inspiration, I find a huge disconnect between what is uppermost in my mind – the state of our nation – and the petty matters that make up life in a small town. Given the economic cataclysm that affects the country, every other matter seems trivial, and whatever good news there may be is inundated by a flood of bad news.

On the one hand, we have just witnessed a truly uplifting moment in our nation’s history: the inauguration of a black president in a dignified and peaceful ceremony attended by a million Americans of every stripe, full of hope for the future. The event provides a definitive refutation of the idea that racism is the chief animating motive of life in America. It reclaims our right to assert the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. It awakens or reawakens a sense of patriotism. We should all be proud of this milestone.

But in spite of the hope that our new president inspires, I am extremely uneasy about the future. And I know that many of my neighbors must share the unease. Certainly the two dozen or so who have lost their jobs in the past year, as recently reported in the Mosquito, must feel this way. Practically every person I know, retired or still working, speaks of 30, 40 and 50 percent losses to their nest egg. A lot of employed people are wondering if they will still be employed at the end of this year. There is no need to go on about these matters; the economic meltdown threatens to engulf nearly everyone.

Speaking as one who generally feels more comfortable with conservative values, I am dismayed by the direction that the country is moving. I believe that smaller government is better, that self-reliance is admirable, that profit-making institutions are more efficient and effective in providing services, that private enterprise provides greater economic freedom, that we need to be wary of giving up our freedoms even in the service of some supposedly greater good.

Instead, we seem to be thundering headlong down a path in the opposite direction, concentrating in Washington not only most political power but also most economic power. As a result, we already see not just the banks and Wall Street institutions clamoring for money but everyone else from Detroit to California asking for their handout. Even Carlisle has its hand out with some hastily conceived plans for “shovel-ready projects.” There already are scandals involving misuse of bailout money and pork barrel politics, and we can be confident that there will be plenty more. And with all this new money pouring out of Washington, can anyone doubt that we are in for an era of drastic inflation? Wiser heads than mine say that all this is necessary, so I will not argue further. Our new president has his plate full, and I hope he is wise enough to see us through these storms. I wish him well.

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