The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 3, 2010

Minuteman High seeks to change cost sharing prior to renovation

What’s the right way to divide up the costs of a regional school with 16 member towns and many students from towns that are not members? As Minuteman Career and Technical High School prepares for a new renovation project, the Regional Agreement Task Force appointed in March has put forward recommendations for changing the agreement now in force. Regional towns, including Carlisle, have long complained that their membership in Minuteman has been more of a burden than a benefit. At issue are tuition assessments that have sometimes surpassed what was charged non-members, a method for distributing capital costs that excluded non-member contribution and a historic inattention to concerns regarding costs and enrollment.

The proposed new agreement would raise the proportion of capital costs paid by towns, including Carlisle, that send few students to the school. At a 3% base assessment per town, 48% of the capital budget would be evenly distributed among member towns, with the remaining 52% apportioned based on enrollment. According to Superintendent Dr. Ed Bouquillon, the former assessment based entirely on enrollment put a large burden on heavy-user communities, while letting minimal users off the hook. “Those utilizing the school felt penalized for their participation,” he said, noting this is a bad incentive at a time the school is attempting to grow.

However, he notes, a companion initiative undertaken by the Minuteman School Committee will reduce the burden to member towns overall. It sets up a means for collecting capital contributions from non-members sending students to the school. Under the School Committee proposal, non-member communities will be charged the maximum tuition allowed by the state, set by the Commissioner of Education. Of that, ten percent will be set aside in a special stabilization fund to offset capital costs. “The Task Force recommendations are only one piece of the package,” says Bouquillon. “This is an important component, and provides a solution that really takes care of that (unfairness).”

Operation expenses

The proposed changes to operating assessments are minor. The system based on previous years’ enrollment is retained, with a minimum enrollment of five students recommended. Also proposed is that assessments be based on a rolling average of three years. Carlisle could pay more if student numbers fall below five, but the rolling average should benefit planning, as small student numbers can now mean dramatic swings in assessment from year to year. Another proposal provides a method for new communities to gain membership and assume both operating and capital costs based on their first year’s enrollment.

A third Task Force recommendation was adopted by the Minuteman School Committee at its September meeting. It initiates tuition for post-graduate students. Prior to September, member post-graduate students attended Minuteman for free. The new rates will cover operating costs but will have a phase-in period to cushion the blow for towns with students who began programs with the expectation of no tuition costs.

Bouquillon noted that the Task Force had considered a suggestion to make Minuteman School Committee representation proportional to student enrollment, but this was abandoned because any new member towns joining would feel they had little say. “The guiding principle was to eliminate barriers to membership,” he said, noting the “one town one vote” method will remain. Another initiative to make it easier to opt out of membership was also tabled out of concern it would delay progress on the school renovation.

Bouquillon says that he hopes the school building project can be completed within three years. Minuteman is currently in phase one of the feasibility plan, which he defines as making enrollment projections, forming a strategic plan and finalizing changes to the regional agreement. All member towns must pass three warrant articles at next Spring’s Town Meeting for the new regional agreement to take effect. Bouquillon is scheduled to meet with Carlisle’s Finance Committtee on December 13. Meetings with each town’s selectmen will be planned in the early spring.

Carlisle has six students enrolled at Minutman currently and “that’s what it’s pretty much been” said Bouquillon, with a low of three students attending in 1990. The school has a total enrollment of 750 this year.

Although it is likely that Carlisle would “pay a little more,” under the new agreement, Bouquillon hopes that everyone will see the value of a better financed and improved school. Pointing to the freshman class, where enrollment is up 60% this year over last, he says Minuteman is already benefiting from better recruiting techniques, cost control and new programs in the arts, health and hospitality fields. Once there is a renovated school with facilities targeted to the technologies of today, he anticipates students will be lining up to attend. “Then you will see that membership has its benefits,” he says. ∆

Proposed amendments to Minuteman Regional Agreement

In a document on the Minuteman website entitled “Report to the Minuteman Regional Vocational School District Committee,” the Task Force makes two specific recommendations that will require the support of member town meetings:

Capital costs: “Each member town shall be assessed three percent of the total budgeted capital costs for the year of apportionment. The remaining budgeted capital costs shall be apportioned among member towns based on each town’s pupil enrollment in Minuteman as of October 1 of the preceding fiscal year. A three-year rolling average formula would be implemented. The current five-pupil minimum enrollment apportionment would remain.”

Operating costs: “Each member town shall be assessed based on the ratio of each member town’s respective annual average pupil enrollment at Minuteman as of October 1 of the preceding fiscal year and that the three-year rolling average for pupil enrollment shall be used. A five-pupil minimum enrollment apportionment is also recommended.”

The third item relates to the apportionment of costs for towns added as new members in future years.∆

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