Aerial view of Concord-Carlisle High School Photo via CCHS Facebook page

Fincom, schools share goals and expectations

By Betsy Levinson
July 27, 2023

At a joint meeting with the School and Finance committees, Superintendent Laurie Hunter outlined the significant budget drivers for Concord’s education system. The meeting was an opportunity to talk informally before the budget process begins in earnest and the guideline is issued.

The FinCom is stressing transparency in developing town and school budgets in the wake of the past year’s rancorous process of approving funds for the new middle school.

FinCom Chairman Parashar Patel explained the guideline process, which includes balancing increases in budgets due to growth, along with inflation and residents’ ability to pay taxes.

He said 75% of the town and school budgets are “subject to the guideline” set by the committee.

Hunter said Concord Public Schools enrollment is about 2,100, with 1,300 students at the regional high school. She listed enrollment as a top priority, focusing on finding a balance among the three elementary buildings and keeping an appropriate class size. While she reported that enrollment is “down” by about 100 children at CPS, there was “no COVID exodus.”

Special education is expensive, particularly for families who require that their child be placed in a program out of the Concord district, she said. Concord must pay for transportation to those schools. Hunter said. Keeping children in the district is a longstanding goal. Out of 3,200 pre-K to age 22 individuals in the Concord district, she said, less than one percent are transported elsewhere.

Ninety-two percent of teachers in the K-8 schools have master’s degrees and 88 percent of the high school have the advanced degrees — all of which adds to the annual budget. 

Other big budget drivers include recent mandates from the state regarding dyslexia screening, special education and related transportation, and the impact of students who are not fluent in English. She is anticipating 12 more kindergartners and will likely hire another teacher, she said. 

The families housed at the Best Western hotel have “a huge impact in this community,” she said.

Hunter has been in touch with state Rep. Simon Cataldo about ways to mitigate the cost of transportation since Concord has to pay to bus students to their former school if they don’t want to stay in Concord.

FinCom member Lois Wasoff asked Hunter about seeking out revenue for the district, including federal and state grants. Hunter said state laws, such as Chapter 70 and 71 provide small revenue streams. She added that while the district does not employ a grant writer, she and other staff people do seek out and write grants wherever they can.

The schools’ capital needs are on the horizon, according to the administration.

The long-term infrastructure of “aging buildings” is prompting a “building conditions assessment” of the three elementary schools and the Ripley building. Alcott was rebuilt in 2004; Thoreau in 2006 and the new Willard school opened in 2007. The new high school opened in 2015.

Patel said the committee looks at the needs of all the town departments, inflation and various factors influencing taxpayers and arrives at a “balance for all stakeholders” in setting the guideline. A member of the audience asked the committee to consider adding “willingness to pay” as a metric to use when setting the guideline.

He said in August and September, the FinCom will lay out its methodology and conduct needs assessments, set the preliminary guideline in October and finalize it in November. 

The next FinCom meeting is Aug. 24. Patel said anyone interested in following the committee can click “Notify me” on the town website homepage and select the Finance Committee.