Friday, June 19, 2009
Closing the high school budget gap
The budget was the only item on the agenda for the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) meeting on Tuesday, June 16. The RSC is still trying to close a $560,000 FY10 budget gap for the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS). Chair Jan McGinn opened the meeting by noting the news from the state has not changed and “the freefall of the Commonwealth [revenues] has been felt in every town in the state.” Although the state budget has not been finalized, if there is any further change to funding for the high school, it will likely be for the worse.
Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations John Flaherty then did a quick recap. Since the Concord and Carlisle Town Meetings passed the FY10 budget for the high school, the state has cut the regional transportation and Chapter 70 budget by $180,000 and is likely to reduce “circuit breaker” funds for special needs students from 72% to 42%, leaving an additional $492,000 shortfall. There has also been a gap opened in the current year’s FY09 funding due to a cut in Chapter 70, a hole the school expects to plug through a federal stimulus grant. However, using these funds now will mean they are not available later, “so we’re creating a problem in FY11 already,” said Flaherty.
To balance the budget in FY10, Flaherty had proposed a number of actions. A school monitor will be funded from parking fee revolving funds, and $45,000 in capital outlay inserted into the budget in case a debt exclusion failed at Town Meetings will not be needed because the article passed. A variety of cuts are proposed, including the elimination of 4.75 FTEs reflecting the employment of six teachers. Additional student fees are proposed to bring the budget close to the $560,000 shortfall anticipated.
At the last RSC meeting a $300 parking fee per year (up from $125) and $20 (now free) per participant extracurricular fee had been proposed. Athletic Director Barry Haley was also asked to analyze the revenue impact of raising athletic fees. Flaherty presented a chart indicating about $44,000 would be raised through higher parking fees, $12,000 through a $20 co-curricular fee, and $80,000 by raising athletic fees to $200 per season from $125, with a $600 family cap, up from $500. Haley noted that based on comparisons with other towns, CCHS would still be at the low end, and noted a $700 cap would be entirely fair. Overall, the fee proposals would net about $135,000 additional.
RSC member Jerry Wedge said “For a long time we’ve been loathe to raise fees” and noted the current ones have been in place for five years. “If we have to go down the fee route, parking is the one I’m most comfortable with.” Principal Peter Badalament was asked if additional parking spaces could be sold, and noted the current lot is full, but fee parking might be reserved by the hill.
Wedge felt the $20 co-curricular fee would be more trouble to administer than it was worth. Badalament noted, however, “Too much higher and you might see a real drop-off in kids who participate.” McGinn wondered if a fee for theater might make more sense than for the other clubs. “It’s an established program with high demand” and a long “season” comparable to athletics. Over 100 students take part, and a $100 per student fee would raise about the same money as the proposed $20 co-curricular fee.
Flaherty wondered if participation in co-curricular activities would drop off, and Badalement agreed it could be discouraging to charge students to participate in services to the school, such as pit and tech crew at plays, or service organizations such as National Honor Society. McGinn said “We don’t want to do this to anyone,” but theater is “a similar type experience” to athletics, which can help students gain access to college.
Kati Miller, student representative, said she would back a wider-based fee over one directed at theater. “A hundred dollars per show wouldn’t raise support. The pit is a huge commitment of hours” that helps some students bond socially. She suggested each student pay an activity fee, but Superintendent Diana Rigby noted that option is illegal for public schools. Rigby then closed the fee discussion by suggesting piloting the $20 co-curricular fee in FY10 and seeing how it works out. “I think that’s reasonable,” she said. “It’s equitable as well,” added Wedge.” CCRSD member Dale Ryder noted the Carlisle School recently added a $50 fee for band and “It’s been fine. We haven’t heard any complaints at all.”
Parents support fees
Several parents weighed in with support for more fees over cuts in programs. Barbara Pauplis of Estabrook Road pointed to high fees for outside activities for her children and noted the proposed school fees are “limited and relatively inexpensive.” Katherine O’Toole of Garden Road wondered why the board was reluctant to raise fees.
Wedge responded, “We’re running a public education here, and co-curricular is part of that education.” He added, “We’d rather be like Bedford or Weston where there are no fees than like a Lincoln-Sudbury or Carlisle where people get used to paying for the service.” Fischelis asked, “Where does it stop?” and wondered if the next step would be charging for English classes. “It becomes more and more like a private education.” Added McGinn, “We don’t want to take the public out of public education.”
A discussion ensued as to whether programs are being cut or not, with Fischelis saying that if teaching positions are lost, that represents fewer options for students. Rigby admitted, “Class sizes will increase and students won’t always get the courses they want.” She added, “We know that is a burden. We would like to avoid it. We’re trying to do the best we can.”
A parent then asked if a plan to cut substitutes and put classes in study halls had been considered. Rigby said that idea had been rejected because it would not be furthering the education of students, especially those who already had study halls. Flaherty noted the FY10 budget includes $89,000 to pay substitutes. “Subs versus an AP Chem section?” responded another parent, indicating she would prefer the latter.
Pauplis wondered if teachers with free blocks could be convinced to cover classes in order to cut the budget for substitutes and save jobs. “It’s something we have to do at work,” she said. She calculated that with savings in unemployment, $89,000 could save two teacher jobs.
A vote on the proposed fee structure is scheduled to be taken at the next RSC meeting on June 25 at 4:30 p.m. at the Ripley School.
may not save jobs
Pauplis then asked how much teacher wage increases cost in the FY10 budget, and whether wage concessions had been requested. She noted teacher raises have averaged 6% to 7% over the past years. Flaherty reported scale wage increase will be $240,000 and step increases another $289,000. Fischelis said that if teachers took half as much, the teacher positions could be saved.
Johanna Glazer, President of the Concord-Carlisle Teachers Association, countered that information, saying the union has been told raise concessions will make no difference in job losses. “I don’t want people to say we can save those jobs, because we can’t.” She also asked that the raises be put in context, noting most jobs include promotions over time, but because teaching is a lateral career, the increases are built in. The three-year teachers’ contract is in its final year, and no decision has been made by the union regarding concessions.
Flaherty confirmed the union had been told not to expect those jobs to be saved. He pointed to a contractual need for a decision to be made by a certain date, as well as a desire to communicate to the towns that by exercising the full extent of the teaching ratio in the contract, the school was doing everything possible to cut costs. He said state funding is likely to fall further, and the chance additional cuts will be needed are high, regardless of what happens with the union. “Where else do you go?” he asked. “Labor is by far the most expensive piece of the cost structure.” He added, “All the good decisions were made in past years. We’re left with a set of bad choices.”
Fischelis wondered if notified teachers could be rehired if conditions changed. Rigby responded that in the rosiest scenario, where the state magically finds some money for the high school, “Absolutely we would do that.”
Fischelis concluded, “FY11 could be even tougher,” and said the committee needs to “rig the ship so we sail the storm and come out the other side.” ∆
Proposed changes to FY10 budget
Moved out of operating budget:
Campus monitor paid from parking fees $23,000
Capital outlay included in debt exclusion $45,000
Reduce teachers (4.75 FTEs) $275,000
Level fund supplies and materials $17,000
Reduce library textbook $9,500
Reduce professional development $35,000
Reduce clerical $10,000
Central office consolidation $61,000
Level administrative salaries $21,000
Increase fees $135,000
Unemployment compensation ($100,000)
Rounded total reductions: $530,000
Approximate shortfall in state aid $560,000
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