Friday, February 13, 2009
Carlisle School Committee lays out superintendency plan
At the February 4 Carlisle School Committee (CSC) meeting the CSC announced it would be hiring an outside consultant to assist in the process of determining whether a superintendency union will be formed between the Carlisle and Concord school systems.
The meeting was held in the Clark Room at the Town Hall and recorded for later broadcast by Concord-Carlisle Community TV (CCTV). The room was packed with town residents and school staff with a lengthy public comment period, similar to one held during the previous CSC meeting (see also “CSC fields questions on superintendency union plan,” Mosquito January 30).
A superintendency union is a sharing of administrative resources and can include all personnel that report directly to the superintendent, excluding principals and teachers, except for “Special Teachers” as specified by Massachusetts General Laws. Unlike standard classroom teachers, teaching specialists may be hired to provide services between schools within the union. Typically those teachers serve part-time at the schools within the union.
The CSC said on January 21 that their choice for the superintendent of the combined districts would be Diana Rigby, who currently serves as superintendent of the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) and the Concord School District. Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle’s contract with Carlisle expires in June, 2010. This winter she was one of four finalists vying for the position of superintendent of the Belmont School District; however she is not among the two remaining candidates under consideration.
Both the CSC and Finance Committee (FinCom) Chair David Model gave PowerPoint presentations explaining concerns about Carlisle’s educational costs. CSC Chair Chad Koski began the meeting by saying they are working “closely with the Selectmen and the FinCom” to detail the reasons why a superintendency union is being considered. CSC member Dale Ryder asked the audience to remember “that we are volunteers” as she presented the PowerPoint report.
CCHS budget bump drives consolidation
According to the presentations, the catalysts for sharing administrative costs with Concord include the current economy, Carlisle’s flat revenue growth and a projected bump in high school enrollment. The ratio of Carlisle high school students to Concord students will rise for three years, 2011 to 2013, increasing Carlisle’s share of the high school budget, according to Model. After 2013 the enrollment bulge at the high school will end and Carlisle’s share will decrease.
FinCom has made the assumption that Chapter 70 state aid to towns will decrease by 10% next year, and then remain “flat for three years.” Model said local growth will be “anemic,” projected at around 1%.
Reached later by phone, Model said the Carlisle School administrative costs are the only town expenses that approach the magnitude of cuts that will be needed to cover the three-year increase in expenses.
Parent Paul Sellew spoke in favor of the superintendency union and agreed with developing a long-term plan “so we can make an informed decision.” He has a son in the Carlisle School and said his “expectations have been met” educationally. “We already share the high school with Concord,” he noted.
Parent Nancy Szczesniak was concerned about losing the current administration. “I’ve seen a lot of positive changes,” she said, “and I’m scared that those changes will get blurred and not be present anymore.”
Szczesniak raised another point, “And this question of what Carlisle is going to do to increase revenue is way more than a school issue.” She continued, “It seems to me that Carlisle as a town needs to decide if they want to merge with Concord. Do they want to increase business in the town so they look more like Concord and Lexington?” She continued, “Why is just the school committee considering this? Why isn’t this a broader decision that this town has to make about how are we going to meet our financial demands in the future?”
School Committee member Louis Salemy pointed out that the school is the largest portion of the town’s budget. Model said the town also has “a high level of services, education being the main one. We can’t continue. That’s a message we’ve been saying for several years.” He added, “It takes a period of crisis for people to get focused.”
Model said the police department has two officers per shift. “I don’t think anyone would consider that we should have one. The next level is no officer. The DPW could consolidate, but if we consolidate with Concord, whose streets get plowed first? What’s being debated here is an administrative service to the school that’s still here.”
Consultant’s role debated
Salemy explained that the CSC has decided to hire a consultant in order to have an independent evaluation of a superintendency union. The cost for the consultant is expected to be somewhere around $10,000.
Parent Lori Tucker asked if conversion to the union was “all or nothing?” Koski replied, “That’s what we want a consultant to help us with.”
Carlisle resident Jill Adams, noting that the financial analysis covered the next three years, wanted to understand what the “time line of decisions” will be. Committee member Bill Fink replied that the decision could be made this school year, but suggested the transition to the union could take longer. Possible steps mentioned by the CSC included forming focus groups and learning from other superintendency union districts. Koski noted the union formation was “not just our decision” but involves working with Concord.
Szczesniak asked if the consultant was going to “show us other ways of saving money, and give us a choice, this way or that?” Koski replied, “We really want the consultant to do the numbers on the superintendency.” School Committee member Wendell Sykes said he disagreed with the narrow focus of the consultant, and suggested the CSC ask the consultant “to look at all the possible things,” including alternate ways to cut the Carlisle School budget.
Administration costs examined
Parent Philip Gladstone said he spent the week looking at the statistical data from the Department of Education (DOE) on school administration costs. He said that Carlisle’s administration costs are “on the high side,” about $100 per pupil above the average for school districts of the same size. He said that Concord’s administration costs are “right on the money” in terms of comparable-sized districts, but the cost is higher than Carlisle’s, so any form of union with Concord should be done carefully, he warned.
“Philip and I spent many hours on the phone” researching data on the DOE website, Fink said. They looked at the 50 top-performing districts “from an MCAS standpoint,” and found that as districts got larger, the administrative costs were reduced. “It was just a sanity check,” on the economies of scale, he said.
Model said, “In my opinion, the school and the administration” are doing a great job. He noted that some education costs have been decreasing, while others are rising, such as unfunded state and federal mandates for programs such as support for English Language Learners.
Marybeth Stevenson spoke for the Carlisle School Advisory Council, asking that before any decision is made the CSC take into account the Carlisle School’s Strategic Plan. She asked that the School Committee assure the community that all effects of a recommended change have been researched and share details of their research with the community.
Doyle proposed research into other options to reduce costs at the school.Carlisle resident Bob Clarke asked if the school has considered cutting some administrative costs this year.
The School Committee did not take any votes regarding hiring a consultant or establishing a timeline leading to a decision on the superintendency union proposal. (For a summary of their February 9 meeting with the FinCom and Selectmen, see “CSC pushes for superintendency union soon,” page 1.) ∆
© 2009 The