The Budget Committee is recommending the approval of the School Department’s $95,255,826 as presented, including a $6.5 million contribution from the city to offset the School Department’s continuing budget struggles. The budget will keep the schools going through what is proving to be a difficult budget season citywide, but not without 98 layoffs, 67 of them teachers. According school officials, an additional $5.5 million would be necessary to keep on these employees. But with the city low on cash reserves, a tightening-of-the-belt going on across the city awaits the new revenues it expects to accompany Encore Boston Harbor’s opening in 2019, and additional state appropriations unlikely to arrive in time, officials have shown little optimism in their prospects of digging up such a sum.
However, school administrators and city officials are downplaying that those layoffs will change performance in the district. “The feeling is that even though you’re short, you’re going to find a way to get the results,” Council President Peter Napolitano told Superintendent of Schools Fred Foresteire. “The kids have always been at the forefront.”
Foresteire maintained that turnover is a natural part of school administration. It’s not strange for any school system to see people go and people come,” he told the Budget Committee. “There’s always turnover. Every year there is.”
There’s another personnel wrinkle: No raises are included in this year’s budget, but employees and the administration are currently in the midst of negotiations. Any contract increase would likely require the schools to go before the City Council for an additional appropriation.
Despite the growing pains of this year’s budget, Foresteire remained bullish throughout the meeting on the School Department’s accomplishments in the face of underfunding. “There’s a misconception that growth is bad. It’s a good thing to see that people are coming here and not running away from us,” said Foresteire. “It says a lot for the city. We’ve been in the Mayor’s Office many times where representatives from various countries wanting to know why their people are coming to this city: what’s happening in the schools, what’s happening in the city. It’s a good thing. And our thing is to manage it, that’s all. And I know one thing: If we shortchange those children, young people, young families, we’re in trouble.”
With the schools already on such a reduced budget, no cuts were seriously considered by the committee. It was almost unanimously recommended out for the full council’s review and approval at their June 22 meeting. Only Ward 2 Councillor Stephen Simonelli voted against recommending the budget.
Down to details
The net school spending required by the state for FY19 is $95,255,826. Included in that figure is $25,071,871 in chargebacks the schools must pay to City Hall, including the following:
- Board of Health – $1,013,674 (paying for nurses, a portion of some Board of Health staff salaries)
- Administration – $599,808
- 40.82 percent of auditor, budget treasurer, purchasing and personnel departments
- Stadium usage – $46,000
- Health insurance present employees – $9,532,294
- Health insurance retired employees – $2,051,465
- City retirement – $1,748,977
- Charter school tuition – $8,610,490
- Workers’ compensation trust and claims – $210,223
- Life insurance – $35,112
- Medicare – $632,047
- Unemployment – $220,313
- School building insurance – $279,000
- School resource officers – $95,468
This brings the School Department operating budget down to $70,180,955. With an additional appropriation from the city provided by Mayor Carlo DeMaria of $6,500,000, as well as a special education transportation budget of $4,700,000, the school’s total FY19 budget will be $81,380,955.
According to Assistant Superintendent Charlie Obremski, this budget represents a minimal increase, even as the district is educating several hundred more students. “Without the help of the mayor or the auditor proposing an additional $6.5 million, the budget would only be up $95,665 from what it was set at in FY18,” said Obremski.
“At that May 2 meeting, the mayor made it clear that he saw no cuts in the budget,” said Foresteire. “He’s offering the $6.5 million to try and relieve this problem, and to quote him, ‘If I had more money, I’d give it to you.’ The fact is, we have not kept pace as a city. If you see what other communities are paying above net school spending – because the state wasn’t paying their share, the cities were paying more – and that wasn’t happening with us, and now we get caught where we are right now.”
According to Obremski, the local contribution towards the foundation budget is $28,814,865, with Chapter 70 aid from the state amounting to $66,400,961.
The School Department has been struggling for three years with a change in how the state allocates aid for free and reduced lunches for economically disadvantaged students. Previously allowing districts to count the number of students in need of aid on their own, the state instead created a system whereby only student’s whose families receive benefits under federal and state poverty programs, such as food stamps, would qualify. In Everett, where a number of students who do need assistance but whose families either do not qualify for the programs or face significant barriers to access them, that meant that it suddenly lost funding for 2,000 students. At roughly $4,000 a student, that change has blown an $8 million hole into the School Department’s budget year after year.
A change to the formula has been included in the State Senate budget by Senator Sal DiDomenico that would fix the problem, allowing the city to use the old formula while other communities continue to use the new one. Even if that change makes it into the house budget and survives the conference process, it would have no impact on this year’s budget, being able only to prevent similar shortfalls in future budgets.