The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 27, 2009

RSC to ask Town Meeting for $750,000 debt exclusion

In a statement to both towns, Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) Chair Jerry Wedge writes, “The RSC is asking for $750,000 from the two towns to fund capital expenses at the high school. These funds will be borrowed as a five-year bond and the cost will be born by both communities in a ratio established by the actual enrollments.” The funds will be used for worn out infrastructure, safety and planning. Carlisle’s total cost is estimated at about $263,000, assuming a five-year bond at 4.75% interest.

Wedge explains that, “In recent years we have asked for funds to replace the bleachers at the football stadium, new bleachers in the gymnasium, replacement of light fixtures with high efficiency ballasts, communication and fire alarm systems, and new finishes and furnishings in the cafeteria. For the past five years, we have tried to identify projects that were either essential to address life safety issues, showed a very short payback, or were ‘transportable’ in the event we moved forward with a new building. Last year we did not ask for any money for these types of projects, so the projects on our five-year plan for last year were not addressed. We cannot adequately maintain our facility without annual progress towards these projects.”

Several years ago a feasibility study committee recommended the high school be torn down and replaced with a new facility. The RSC has submitted applications to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for financial assistance in a school replacement project, but has not yet received state approval. Wedge notes, “We are also working closely with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), our accreditation agency, who has put the high school on warning status for not fully addressing concerns from their ten-year study completed five years ago. Many of NEASC’s remaining concerns cannot be addressed without a major project.”

Wedge continues, “Given the length of time that we have been waiting to hear from the state’s Massachusetts School Building Authority, and given the lack of progress in meeting the concerns of the NEASC, the School Committee must now move forward. This debt exclusion article asks for funds to address three areas:

• Worn out infrastructure: $250,000 of the request will be spent on refurbishing old and worn out areas with new carpet, furniture replacement, toilet partitions,and mechanical equipment.

• Life Safety: $250,000 of the request will be spent on extending the fire alarm system to the classrooms, so that the entire building will have a serviceable fire alarm system.

• Planning: $250,000 of the request will go toward a planning process that will ultimately outline a major renovation or reconstruction project.”

Reached by phone, Wedge was asked about the $250,000 requested for planning. He said, “We have submitted a Statement of Interest to the MSBA. If it is accepted, we have money in place to do the required Feasibility Study. But if the high school project is not accepted by the MSBA, we need to create our own planning process for future investment.”

The Feasibility Study that was done five years ago cost roughly $100,000. Wedge is now asking for enough money to create a conceptual plan. “I am not looking for another study. I am looking for a plan.” He wants architects and engineers to be involved in laying out a project. He does not expect a schematic design, but rather, a conceptual design that defines spaces and shows how they fit together.

Regional School District (RSD) Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations John Flaherty explained that the impact of this additional debt to taxpayers will be cushioned by a declining CCHS debt service. Between FY09 and FY10 the debt service declined by $203,000. Not counting this request, debt service will decline by another $174,000 in FY11.

However, the additional debt payments will affect taxes during FY11 - FY15, during a predicted spike in Carlisle’s enrollment and therefore Carlisle’s assessments for the school’s operating budget. Carlisle’s CCHS assessment ratio for this year, FY09, and next is approximately 28%. According to enrollment projections, the RSD has estimated that Carlisle’s assessment ratio will rise to roughly 31% in FY11, FY12 and FY13 before dropping back to 30% in FY14 and 29% in FY15.

However, factoring in the assessment changes, the impact on Carlisle taxpayers from the current and proposed CCHS debt service is dropping and is expected to continue dropping, with the exception of FY11. If a building project does not move forward quickly, additional capital requests for the high school are expected in coming years. For approval, the debt exclusion will require a simple majority vote at Town Meeting in both Concord and Carlisle. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito