Concord residents vote at Town Meeting. Photo by Jennifer Lord Paluzzi

FinCom plan to rein in school budget declined

By Betsy Levinson
May 11, 2023

Though the presentation didn’t sway enough Town Meeting voters to pass, the Finance Committee offered a plan for a lower Concord Public School budget than the one that rose above the preliminary FinCom guideline by about $1 million.

After deliberations between the FinCom and the School Department, the gap narrowed somewhat. The FinCom increased its guideline by $330,000 and asked the School Committee to reduce their budget increase by $730,000.

“We believe our recommended increase of the CPS budget by 3.3 percent (guideline) would have been the first step in closing the overall gap between revenues and expenses,” said FinCom member and guideline subcommittee Chairman Parashar Patel in an email seeking comment on the Town Meeting presentation.

Voters approved the K-8 CPS budget as presented by the school department.

The School Committee’s number, presented at Town Meeting, was $150,000 less than the amount printed in the warrant, but “the reduction does not fundamentally affect the underlying cost structure at CPS,” Patel said.

“As the largest budget entity in town, it is critical that CPS begin addressing its cost structure which is estimated to increase by at least 4 percent per year over the next five years,” he said. “Without changing this cost curve, residents will face higher taxes and/or reduced town services.” 

He pointed out that all town spending has to be financed by revenue, mostly property taxes.

“If one use of funds increases, absent corresponding changes in revenue, other use of funds must decrease,” he said.

He said Concord’s fiscal position is “weaker than in prior years,” and the FinCom urges fiscal restraint for the next several years “as the town’s revenue and free cash recover to prepandemic levels and the taxpayers absorb the increase in taxes related to the Middle School.”

He said the FinCom also urges “sustainable revenue growth.”

“Because revenue growth will likely take several years to be sustainable, we recommend limiting headcount growth, deferral or resizing of capital projects where practical, and use of accumulated fund balances rather than increasing property taxes.”

“In particular, we recommend that the Concord Public Schools, the largest of the town’s budget, find ways to slow its five-year projected cost growth trajectory,” Patel said.

The article on the CPS budget passed by a wide margin by Town Meeting voters, after persuasive arguments championing the value of a Concord education. The joint high school budget fell within the FinCom guideline.