The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 10, 2010

FinCom reviews Carlisle School budget

Finance Committee (FinCom) members appeared disappointed with the Carlisle School’s request for an increase of 2.97% for FY12 when they met with the Carlisle School Committee (CSC), Superintendent Joyce Mehaffey and Business Manager Susan Pray on December 6.

According to figures provided by the school administration, the increase in the proposed budget totals $634K, including $323K for pay increases for staff (see Table 4, page 8). This will be offset primarily by reductions in staff of 3.1 “educator” Full-Time Equivilant (FTE) and two “clerical” FTE, to achieve the net 2.97% increase.

The data also showed that teacher specialists in each of five departments (see article at left) will have their hours cut by 6.7 to 10.0%. FinCom member Jerry Lerman noted that although by next fall the number of students will have declined by 200 over nine years, the number of specialists has stayed about the same during that period.

Specialist sessions free teachers from classes, enabling teachers to have preparation periods, Mehaffey and Pray explained. The number of specialists depends not on the number of students but on the number of class sections in the school.

Until now, it has been impossible to cut entire sections of any one grade, because the loss of student population has been evenly distributed across grade levels rather than in a few age groups, CSC members and administrators explained. Only two sections can be cut next year, one in grade 1 and one in grade 3.

FinCom Chair David Guarino noted that over the past seven years the number of students has dropped by over 150 (about 23%), while the school’s operating budget has risen over 20% during the same period. “At what point do we expect [this] budget will be lower?” he asked.

The school spending has been “level-funded for two years, has “returned money to the town” and now has reduced staff, Pray answered. Later, CSC member Josh Kablotsky observed that some costs that have risen are not controllable (for example, special education), but the administration is controlling those that can be.

Guarino questioned the school’s class sizes. Mehaffey responded that Carlisle is not alone in aiming for class sizes of no more than 20 in Pre-K, 18 in K to 2, 18 to 21 in grades 3 to 5, and 21 to 25 in grades 6 to 8.

FinCom member David Model questioned the “rich” language choices available to students (French, Spanish and Chinese). At what point would the number of choices be reduced, he asked? In planning for next year the school aims to preserve existing programs for all students, Mehaffey said. “If we were told we had to go deeper, we’d have to start examining programs,” which is “not simple,” she added.

From the academic perspective, the school provides “good returns” for the funds spent, said CSC member Louis Salemy.

Later, Town Treasurer Larry Barton said that in 2009 the school did cut spending, as the town feared that state aid would be drastically reduced. The CSC “did what every other department did,” he said. The school also in fact returned a “small amount of money” to the town when the business manager left and was not soon replaced. However, what was achieved was not a permanent reduction in staff, Barton noted. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito