The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 6, 2009

Concord-Carlisle High School budget scrutinized

Negotiations for next year’s Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) budget are in full swing. Deputy Superintendent John Flaherty began a budget discussion with the Regional School Committee (RSC) on October 27 by presenting a FY11 Preliminary Needs Budget roughly 6% above this year’s revised budget. Carlisle’s Finance Committee (FinCom) has asked the committee to cut the growth in half.

While based on the current FY10 budget, the preliminary budget is not a strict “level services” budget and includes $277,163 for items such as an increase of 3% in supplies and materials (cut by 50% two years ago), a 0.5 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) technology specialist and the purchase of one school bus (also cut previously.)

The preliminary budget does not include $92,517 in needs which include a 0.25 FTE theater teacher, 0.25 FTE TV production elective, 0.25 FTE dance elective, a campus monitor and a 0.25 English language development teacher.

State aid cuts accumulate

An FY10 budget of roughly $22.5 million was approved last spring at both Concord’s and Carlisle’s Town Meetings. However, in late June the FY10 budget was reduced and 4.75 FTEs were eliminated in response to state aid cuts of $558,000. At a parent coffee on November 2, CCHS Principal Peter Badalament said that new state aid reductions announced last week would result in an additional loss of funds for the high school this year. While not providing details of how the shortfall will be handled, he reassured parents that additional faculty cuts were not anticipated.

Towns ask for belt-tightening

The Concord FinCom has proposed a $151,000 decrease from the FY11 CCHS budget, which would constitute a 5.4% increase over the FY10 budget. Carlisle’s FinCom has asked to limit the budget growth to 3%, which would mean a $660,000 reduction from the FY11 Preliminary Needs Budget.

Carlisle FinCom member David Model spoke with the RSC about budget concerns on October 27. He explained that Carlisle town departments were told to figure out what services would look like with a 10% cut to their departmental budgets. “It’s a preliminary assessment, he said.” RSC and Carlisle School Committee member Louis Salemy said that the Carlisle School would try to adopt a zero budget increase. RSC member Pam Gannon of Concord said the Concord Public Schools were also looking at a 0% increase.

To accommodate the requested cuts, Rigby said 3.5 FTEs might have to be eliminated. Class sizes will increase. Either the whole athletic program might be eliminated or half the athletic program, freshman and junior varsity sports and co-curricular activities would be eliminated. Model said he was looking for more useful alternatives; he did not want a “nuclear response.”

RSC member Pam Gannon pointed out that the supplies and materials budget had been cut in half a couple years ago. “It’s an enormous cut and we can’t restore it this year. It’s been years of cuts that have taken place.”

RSC Chair Jerry Wedge said, “Everyone knows we have had a bare bones budget for the last three years.” He said any cuts were going to hurt.

RSC Vice-chair Jan McGinn said, “We’re not pursuing a nuclear option. . . . Understand the options are fairly limited.”

Model said he understood that, but pressed, “Aren’t there some other things?” He said, “We can’t collect data without asking the question.” He also made it clear that this had nothing to do with the change in the assessment ratio between the two towns, as the high school undergoes a short-term surge in enrollment from Carlisle. “That’s a three-year displacement and that’s not in play here.”

Salemy said, “We’re going to be back here next year with the same issues. It will be a recurring theme.” Wedge replied, “It has been a recurring theme.” Model reiterated, “This is a starting point.”

Rigby reminded everyone that 70% of the costs are contractual and there are special education mandates. “We have been doing this now for three years and we keep cutting. We’re at a crossroads.”

RSC member Louis Salemy explained after the meeting that since the faculy layoffs in June, there is currently a 91:1 student-to-teacher ratio at CCHS. The teachers contract limits the ratio to a maximum of 95:1, which is allowed during difficult economic times. The Concord-Carlisle Teachers Association expects to begin contract negotiations with the RSC in November. The current three-year contract ends June 30, 2010.

Discussions clarify positions

The Regional School District [RSD] budget was discussed further at Carlisle’s FinCom meeting on Monday November 2. When reached after the meeting, Carlisle FinCom Chair David Guarino said the meeting was productive. Rigby and Flaherty “know their numbers well. They know what’s possible to do. They know the workings of the school better than we do. We know what the town’s finances look like.”

After the meeting, Salemy said, “It is fair to say the RSC and RSD administration take the position that 5% growth is where [the budget] should be. Carlisle FinCom wants a 3% increase.”

Flaherty said, “Carlisle is concerned about the challenges that the FY11 budget presents. There was a full discussion of issues and cost drivers.”

Guarino said the discussion went back and forth. It would be hard for the RSD to meet the $660,000 in reductions due to contractual obligations, the cost of unemployment benefits and the cost of SPED mandates.

Healthcare, retirement costs add to CCHS budget growth

Salemy pointed out another important difference between the Carlisle K-8 school budget and the regional high school budget. The Town of Carlisle budget, not the Carlisle School budget, pays for health insurance and retirement benefits of school employees. In contrast, the regional school district is its own entity and benefits are borne by the regional high school budget. “Healthcare insurance and retirement benefits tend to grow at a much higher rate than the school budget,” said Salemy. “These costs drive up the RSD budget.”

Salemy added that state aid cuts can have a large effect, “When the State pays less of the circuit breaker reimbursement, it really inflates SPED costs.” He reiterated, “We took $600,000 out of the budget last year. The reduction in circuit breaker reimbursement hit hard. Both Chapter 70 and regional transportation aid were cut. The message here is there’s nothing left to be cut. If you really want to keep to a 3% increase, the athletic program will be eliminated.” He praised the regional administration. “They run a very lean organizational structure in Concord.”

Guarino said, “We’ll try to work with them to find something we can support without draconian cuts at the school.” He added that when FinCom has asked all the town departments to cut their budgets it is hard to fund the RSD at the level they want. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito