As citizens prepare for the annual opportunity to shape the priorities and vision for our community at the Concord Town Meeting, we thank you for your generous support of our schools. We encourage your participation at Town Meeting and remind voters that school-related articles will be addressed on Monday, April 13. We ask you, our fellow citizens, for continued support by approving the Grades K-8 Concord Public School (CPS) budget (Article 22) and the Grades 9-12 Concord-Carlisle Regional School District (CCRSD) budget (Article 26).
In recent years, reduced school budgets have reflected the financial realities of the economic downturn and the recognition of generous taxpayer support for new school facilities. These recent budgets, however, have not kept pace with increases in fixed costs and enrollment, and have not adequately addressed the costs of new State and Federal mandates. The School Committees strongly believe that we must address this situation with a one-time above average funding increase this year for Concord K-8 schools. Our proposed budget will increase professional development and school site support to respond to new education mandates, address enrollment increases, restore previous cuts to durable and expendable supplies and materials, fund a new math curriculum and support the technology hardware replacement cycle.
The Town has supported and achieved a margin of excellence in our schools that cannot be sustained if our budgets do not keep pace with fixed cost and enrollment growth. The Concord K-8 school budget has grown at an average annual rate of 3.2% over the past five years, while the annual rate of growth for fixed costs is 3.7%. At the high school, this five-year average rate is 2.9%, while the growth rate for fixed costs is 4.5%. Fixed costs include contractual salary and benefit obligations, and non-salary operating expenses such as Special Education, transportation services, utilities and insurance. Five year enrollment numbers show a 12.6% increase at K-8, and a 2.2% increase at the high school last year.
The Report of the Finance Committee of the Town of Concord states the Town and school budgets are well managed and the Town is in sound fiscal condition (with $11.1M in free cash and over $3.5M of unused levy limit). We are audited annually and our high school enjoys a Aaa bond rating. Our budget recommendations require no override, as the total of all Town and school budget requests are well below the levy limit. Voter approval of the Town and School budgets as presented in the Town Warrant will lead to a FY16 Town tax rate increase of an estimated 4.45% (from $14.29 to $14.93 per $1000).
In addition to funding the school budgets, there are several challenges that we also hope to address with additional school articles at Town Meeting. The location of a new permanent school bus depot (Special Town Meeting Article 1) requires a new facility (Article 24) and the replacement of buses to ensure the safe transportation of our children to school (Articles 25 and 27). Recognizing the financial impact on residents, we reduced some initial requests and are recommending a high school budget at the Finance Committee Guideline level. Even with some reductions, we understand that we are still advocating for a significant investment in our schools this year.
We encourage citizens to become familiar with the articles, and to attend and vote at Town Meeting. The School Committees are offering several community coffees prior to Town Meeting for citizens to learn more and ask questions of School Committee members: April 6 at 7pm at Peabody Forum, April 8 at 7pm at Willard School and April 10 at 1pm at Fowler Library.
Kathleen Snook, Chair, Concord School Committee
Jennifer Munn, Chair, Concord-Carlisle School Committee