Friday, January 29, 2010
A cynical proposal
Soon the Town may have the only chance in a generation to re-think and possibly re-negotiate the agreement that ties Carlisle to the Minuteman Career and Technical High school regional district. School leaders have decided to seek funds to renovate or reconstruct the nearly 40-year-old building, which means that the school will have to ask member towns for approval to borrow for reconstruction twice, for a feasibility study at Town Meeting this spring, then for construction costs in a future year.
Our potential leverage derives from the requirement that all 16 member towns must approve the project. Unanimity is unlikely. Fifteen years ago the state’s education reform law substituted a murky formula for the proportional assessments dictated by the regional agreement, and ever since some towns, including Carlisle, have been frustrated at paying much higher costs per student than others, with essentially no recourse. (This situation has eased somewhat; the school has raised tuition for out-of-district students and substantially reduced next year’s budget, which with other changes will bring Carlisle’s cost per student down considerably. (see page 1) Anticipating resistance, the Minuteman School Committee has just appointed a task force to recommend changes to the 1970 regional agreement. Luckily for Carlisle, Thornton Ash, Long-Term Capital Requirements Committee (LTCRC) member and former FinCom chair, will be a member. It is this revision process, combined with the possibility of withholding approval of new construction, that seems most likely to give Carlisle an opening to alter our relations with the district, though when and how such a negotiation might take place, and who might be involved, are unpredictable.
From all I’ve heard, students who might not thrive in the more traditional setting of Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) are fortunate to have this alternative available. I do not mean to suggest that we should question the value of vocational or technical education, or the operation and achievements of the school and its students, or the School Committee’s current problems with financial oversight (“Minuteman School Committee wrestles with ethics charges,” Jan. 22, 2010).
What I suggest instead is, frankly, a bit extreme. The Town has virtually no power over the school’s direction or our costs, and to withdraw from the district is virtually impossible. So I suggest that the Town use the building proposal to ensure that our future payments will accomplish what we want for our young people. To that end, we need to learn more about which students can benefit most from attending, and how. How do students come to enroll at Minuteman rather than CCHS? Given the differential per-student assessments between CCHS and Minuteman, is there an incentive for Carlisle to encourage more students to attend Minuteman? Could we get the same benefits for our students without being a member of the regional district?
Minuteman has expertise in technology and “hands-on” science education tied to pragmatic and useful outcomes. Is collaboration or coordination in science education with CCHS and the Carlisle School (CPS) possible? Or, conversely, does the Minuteman curriculum duplicate rather than complement that of CCHS?
These questions deal with educational needs, aims and outcomes, rather than the merits and fiscal impact of the building project (particularly whether building for more than twice the enrollment from member towns makes sense), which will be the focus of the FinCom and LTCRC. And the Minuteman Regional Agreement Task Force will probably work to restore equity in assessments to member towns and to get non-member towns with students at the school to pay a share of the building costs, rather than to look into such fundamental education issues.
The Carlisle School Committee seems the logical choice for this inquiry, as the town body most concerned with how our young people learn and with access to the insights of CPS staff. Alternatively, could the Selectmen appoint a task force of CPS staff, residents who work in education and finance officials, or hire an educational consultant to make a recommendation? Whoever takes the lead, my plea is that we understand more about what our kids need from the school, in case we get the chance to ask for it. ∆
Ramen and other unfortunate conveniences
Whether your dinner is a mid-day or evening meal, instant ramen is a poor idea. Unless we are in dire economic circumstances, we all ought to be able to agree on this. Perhaps it is because we all know that essentially ramen (or instant dinners by any other name) are not a healthy choice. They are lazy, salty, calorie-laden and non-nutritious, even if they fill the belly quickly to no good end. But we do so anyways. And so it is with so many things in life. Convenience (as symbolized by ramen) has become the trump card in our daily deck and less important issues have become higher priorities. Thus an after-school snack of high-fructose corn syrup and cheap chips is also a poor choice. Our bodies would be better off with a teaspoon of sugar (whose calories are less damaging in the long run) and/or being a little late to the next appointment due to a healthier choice.
The photo of Marlow Duffy and the illiterate(?) cow (see recent article and subsequent letters to the editor) was only abusive or anti-bovine if one does not wear a leather belt, leather uppers or soles on their footgear or buy clothing, toys or other goods manufactured in developing economies where free-range cattle and their herders are starving for feed and water. It is very difficult to rationalize so many of the social ills of the world (never mind our homeland) when faced with the crueler realities which we in Carlisle usually do not need to countenance. Which is more critical: childhood obesity or supposed dairy herd deprivation, domestic abuse or an innocent picture magnified to no good use? Those of us who are so able should pick more important battles, and the few cows in Carlisle are a lot better off than most of the other cows in this country and the world for whom righteous indignation might be more appropriate. But it is far too convenient to rail against what is right under our noses than to grasp and resolve the bigger problem which is out of plain sight or largely in the broadcast media.
Driving into Carlisle from Chelmsford, in particular, on a snowy night is particularly lovely. For one, our humble burg has withstood the temptation to light every five hundred feet with a street light. For two, our roads require a bit more attention from the driver who quickly notices that s/he has left the over-zealous application of highway de-icer for the rurality of Carlisle. Our sometimes snowy streets compel one to slow down perhaps to enjoy the beauty and quietude that is so appropriate to the winter season. Nothing is lost for Carlisle’s more conservative notions of highway maintenance and those who take the time to notice are able to appreciate the snow-filled trees and the quiet music of a snowy winter’s evening.
Carlisle is one of the few places one could live where there is an opportunity to take a longer view of what is important in life and a town that is steeped in natural beauty. We have the opportunity to make choices because we lack so many of the “conveniences” that most other towns have. Lack begets choosing, choice requires thought and thought leads to action. A little inconvenience goes a long way toward better decision making and not taking our world for granted. ∆
© 2010 The