The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 19, 2009

CSC hears superintendency union offers limited savings

Alternatives proposed

When Carlisle School Committee (CSC) consultants presented their findings on June 10 regarding the financial implications of a proposed superintendency union between the Carlisle and Concord School Districts, they concluded that Carlisle might save on the order of $200,000 - $250,000, significantly less than the $800,000 originally estimated. Considering the reduced savings, CSC Chair Chad Koski said the merger is “not very likely.” However, other ways to reduce costs may be possible. The consultants shared a number of suggestions, along with strong accolades for the educational program in Carlisle.

A crowd of over 35 joined the CSC in the Corey auditorium to hear Donald Kennedy, David Tobin and Arthur Bettencourt from the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) present their findings. Among the audience were Selectmen, Finance Committee members, former School Committee members and Carlisle School administrators whose positions were being considered for elimination.

A superintendency union is not a fully combined, regional school system but a way of sharing school district administrative services that can result in efficiencies of scale. Until 1972 Carlisle was a member of a union with Harvard, Stow and Bolton, but left the group when it was no longer cost-effective.

The impetus for the CSC to investigate a superintendency union with Concord was to save money. The town expenses will mount in the next few years due to several factors, including the Carlisle School building project and a spike in costs for the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS). Beacause of a temporary bump in enrollment, Carlisle’s assessment for the CCHS budget will experience a four-year spike, beginning in FY11 (see “$700,000 of CCHS FY11 budget may shift to Carlisle,” Mosquito, January 30).

NESDEC also noted that Carlisle School per-pupil administrative costs are rising. It was observed at the meeting that rising per-pupil costs are directly related to falling enrollment. Since 2005 the Carlisle School enrollment has dropped from 815 to 735. By cutting administrative costs, the CSC hopes to protect the school from cuts in teaching staff.

Two phases of research were contracted with NESDEC. The first phase was to ascertain if the savings realized in sharing administrative personnel would warrant further work on a superintendency union and, only if a union were economically feasible, the second phase was to document the educational impact of the merger.

In calculating how much might be saved through a superintendency union, the consultants began with a list of ten administrative personnel supplied by the School Committee and then considered whether each position could be cut. The list included: superintendent, assistant to the superintendent, business manager, business manager assistant, director of student support services and special education, assistant to the director of student support services, psychologist, technical support and facilities manager. “This is in no way a reflection of those people in those positions,” explained Bettencourt.

The consultants gave a breakdown of their methods and results. Through interviews and a review of educational documents the consultants said they strived “to understand roles in the day-to-day operation of the Carlisle School District.” They interviewed 15 people at the Carlisle School and Town Hall. In Concord, they interviewed Superintendent Diana Rigby and Deputy Superintendent for Finance John Flaherty. NESDEC looked at the salaries of each Carlisle position which might be eliminated. They also estimated increases in Concord salaries as employees take on additional responsibilities or as new staff is hired to handle the work, with resulting “charge back” costs to Carlisle.

Of the ten positions, only five positions were ultimately identified as possibilities to share with Concord: superintendent, business manager, director of student support services, psychologist and network technical support. After calculating the shared costs, Carlisle’s savings were lower than desired. CSC member Louis Salemy said “there’s no way” he would recommend the superintendency union with a savings of only $200,000 to $250,000.

Carlisle School praised

“It is very evident this is a high performing school,” said Bettencourt. The atmosphere at Carlisle School and the approachability of the staff are similar to a private school, the consultants were told by people they interviewed. They noted that a reduction in staff would affect the school atmosphere. “You do some things really, really well,” said Kennedy. “Your inclusion of [special education] students is outstanding. It is the best I’ve seen in the state.” He added,“We don’t know of any school district that is spending less than you are on out-of-district placements.” Bettencourt commended the curriculum development and professional development. “I’m impressed by your arts program,” added Tobin.

Key to their findings, said Kennedy, was differences in how administrative and staff duties are performed at Carlisle and Concord Schools. They said the Concord administrators (including the superintendent, principals, and director of students services) perform more traditional managerial roles. In comparison, the same positions in Carlisle have more duties in the day-to-day operation of the school. The administrators attend parent and staff meetings, and interact with teachers and students in the classroom, and also with parents.

“You certainly need to be commended for the very small number of out-of-district placements,” said Kennedy. Out-of-district tuition is 3.8% of the Carlisle School spending, compared to Concord’s 10%. Some parents attributed this to the special education director being familiar with their children’s needs. They noted out-of-district costs may change if Concord’s model is followed.

The consultants noted that unlike most communities, the Carlisle School staff works closely with town personnel and provides some services to the town such as computer network support.

NESDEC declined to give a recommendation on whether or not to proceed with a superintendency union. When pressed for advice, the consultants again praised the Carlisle school system. Bettencourt said, “Be mindful of how special the school system is that you have. It is truly extraordinary.” Tobin smiled and said he would enroll every one of his 19 grandchildren in the Carlisle School if he could. Bettencourt noted, “It’s going to take a lot of hard work to hold on to what’s special” about the school, especially during the current tough economy.

Other ways to save costs

The consultants suggested a variety of ways to reduce costs:

• Reorganize existing administrative functions, consolidate duties and contract some services. For instance, Kennedy suggested the school could contract with Concord or a consultant for the position of business manager.

• Reduce time devoted to CSC meetings. “Some of the work would evaporate if the School Committee had fewer meetings,” Kennedy said. NESDEC advised cutting back to one CSC meeting per month and suggested that administrators be required to attend only when presenting reports, or if needed for input.

• Expand the regional school district with Concord, sharing school facilities and cost across grades preK – 12. The CSC indicated they were not looking into regionalization at this time.

• Explore two-way collaboration. Instead of a one-way process where Concord takes on Carlisle’s administrative functions, consultants suggested Carlisle might have skills to offer Concord in a two-way collaboration. Tobin said schools in Pennsylvania use such an “inter-local compact” to share services. He listed the following areas to consider for collaboration: health insurance, human resource services, purchasing, busing or athletics.

No votes were taken by the School Committee that evening. Koski said that discussions on what to do next will be a “hot topic” at the CSC summer meeting in August. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito