Friday, February 5, 2010
Finance Committee reviews Minuteman, COA budgets
There were no surprises when the Minuteman Regional High School appeared before the Carlisle Finance Committee (FinCom) at their February 1 budget hearing. All of the details in the 9.04% reduction in the Carlisle FY11 assessment were presented by Director of Business and Operations Camie Lamica exactly as previously disclosed at their public hearing on January 19 (see Mosquito, January 29). Carlisle’s Minuteman representative Mariellen Perugini assisted Lamica in explaining the process that led to reducing the assessment from the FY10 amount of $184,993 to the FY11 proposal of $168,275.
The total approved Minuteman budget for FY10 was $17,496,001 and a “level service” budget for FY11 would have raised that amount by $551,721 or 3.2% after salary/step increases and other expenses. To counteract this unacceptable impact on member towns, Minuteman took the ax to a number of expenses. Five administrative positions were eliminated along with four teaching positions and four retirements. The school will also remove one of the custodians. Total reductions amounted to $1,809,043 and brought the final adjusted budget request down to $16,238,679.
Current enrollment is 698 students, up slightly from a low of 680 last year. The budgeted per-pupil cost of Minuteman is $25,988, the highest of all local technical schools. “Career and technical education is quite a bit more expensive by its very nature than traditional education because of the equipment involved,” explained Perugini. The proposed cuts should better align Minuteman costs with those of its counterparts. A student teacher ratio of 9.4 for FY11 puts Minuteman somewhere in the middle of others in the district. “We need Town Meeting approval of 12 out of 16 member towns, regardless of enrollment, to accept the budget,” said Lamica. Considering the proposed 10% reduction from a level-service budget, even rebellious Belmont has publicly stated “this looks really good,” according to Lamica. “They’re happy.”
Lamica had more Minuteman business to come before the FinCom. “We have a building that’s about 35 years old,”she informed the members. This has prompted the need for a feasibility study to consider options for making improvements to the building. These improvements include “renovating, reconstructing, expanding, remodeling and adding” to the high school.
The Minuteman School Committee will be voting on this matter during the late February or early March meeting. Once the School Committee votes, an official notification will be sent to each member town within seven days of the vote. Within 60 days from the school committee vote, member towns will need to approve or disapprove the amount of debt at Town Meeting. If a member town does not hold a town meeting within the 60 days, it is deemed automatically approved. All 16 towns must approve the study for it to be accepted.
“Originally we were looking at a cost of $1.1 million spread amongst the 16 towns, and MSBA [Massachusetts School Building Authority] has indicated that they will provide 40% reimbursement,” said Lamica. “The updated figure that the architect firm has provided us would be $725,000, which with a 40% reimbursement would make it a $435,000 payment spread across the 16 member towns.” There is no estimate of the total cost of the project as yet, except for a “cap” of $98 million. The MSBA prefers to complete the study first to determine the extent of the work required.
FinCom member David Model questioned whether non-member towns would be required to share the cost of the study and final project. Lamica assured the FinCom that the district would be charging non-member towns an increased tuition rate to help pay for part of the costs. “The district would actually be a 17th paying member and we would be collecting over the 25 year debt service from the added district member,” explained Lamica. Carlisle’s share of the $725,000 is approximately $8,164.
Minuteman has submitted proposed Warrant language for the Carlisle Town Meeting. They plan to make a presentation at that time to acquaint townspeople with details of the study. FinCom member David Verrill suggested that the school remind voters that “the town is required to provide a vocational education for those who request it, and if we were not members of Minuteman then we would have to resort to the next set of closest vocational schools and their cost is ‘x’.”
Selectman Tim Hult reminded Lamica that presentations are traditionally limited to eight minutes, just in case the school is tempted to provide voters with greater verbiage. With one, possibly two other major school building projects being presented at Town Meeting, there is a risk of “voter fatigue.”
The Carlisle Council on Aging (COA) was given a guideline FY11 budget of $102,763 by the FinCom, which amounted to level funding from FY10. The COA agrees that it can live within the guidelines. “Eighty percent of the budget is salary,” said Verna Gilbert, who was accompanied by COA Chair Marje Stickler and new Director Debra Siriani. “We don’t have a lot of wiggle room in the budget. Ten people are crossing the 60 boundary every month.”
“There are 1,068 seniors who are 60 and up, which is 19% of the town,” explained Siriani. “We’re asking for approximately $96 per-senior per year.”
Model believes there are four core functions of the town. “Safety and security, infrastructure like DPW, education and community service like the library and COA.” Model echoed FinCom members when he stated, “We consider COA as a core function of the town. We appreciate the work you have done and must make sure that seniors feel comfortable remaining in Carlisle and feel that their needs are being addressed.”∆
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