Concord school budgets scrutinized by Finance Committee

By Betsy Levinson
March 23, 2023

After an exhaustive presentation on the school budgets for Fiscal Year 2024, the Finance Committee unanimously approved the Concord-Carlisle Regional School budget while recommending that the School Committee “meet the FinCom guideline” for the K-8 Concord Public Schools budget.

The CPS budget is more than $500,000 over the 3.3 percent guideline for budget increases set by the FinCom.

The CCHS budget, as presented under Article 16, seeks $25,357,846 representing Concord’s share of the two-town school. The total request is $37,811,098. The number is “aligned with the guideline” set by the FinCom, according to Bob Conry, school financial officer.

The budget is an increase of 3.48 percent over last year, with Concord’s share increasing by 1.58 percent.

Superintendent Laurie Hunter said the budget includes the addition of a new dean of students for the high school which adds about $100,000. She said the post-COVID years have brought a new need for mental health staff support, as well as staff for classes in social and emotional learning.

At the K-8 level, the school department is presenting a FY24 budget of $45,197,176 under Article 17. It is a 4.7 percent increase over last year.

Hunter said the Concord Public School budget is above the guideline but does not require an override.

Hunter noted three drivers that caused the increase: Special education costs, especially transportation and tuition at private schools that increased by 14 percent; higher utility costs; and inflation. On the other hand, she reported that the private placements have decreased substantially due to the concentrated efforts to keep Concord students in local schools.

Wilson Kerr said the 4.7 percent increase was “reasonable,” given the current inflation rate. He called Hunter’s budget “stunning.”

But Select Board member Matt Johnson, speaking for himself, cautioned that many taxpayers were reaching their “breaking point.” 

Todd Benjamin questioned the 30 paid professional development days per teacher over 11 months. He asked if there was a way to measure the benefit to the town for the cost. Hunter answered that “studies all over the world” point out that “the biggest need is time” for teachers to hear from and learn from each other.

A teacher at Alcott School read from a list of potential cuts to the budget to meet the guideline, lamenting every one. He said field trips, instrumental music lessons and special education tutors, as well as professional development funds and librarians were on the list and may be deducted if the Select Board or Town Meeting voters do not pass the article.

Mary Hartman, a member of the Select Board but speaking for herself, was interested in revenues, not just spending. Hunter said she is “always watching” for private funding sources, but the demographics “are not favorable.”

FinCom members suggested lowering the CPS budget to the guideline, meaning a $585,000 reduction. Chairperson Peggy Briggs said perhaps there was a number that the committee could support that was less than that amount.

At the Select Board meeting this week, the four members present voted to “support the FinCom guideline” with respect to Article 17, the CPS budget.

The committee also wanted more information about Article 18 seeking $900,000 for capital expenses for school buildings, including heat pumps at Ripley; a campus master plan for Thoreau; loading dock repairs at Thoreau, and other capital expenses related to the schools.