School Finance Review Commission to hear issue on Nov. 1
By Brendan Clogston
The City Council declined to weigh in on the ongoing dispute between the School Department and the City of Everett over the $2.5 million in chapter 70 funds recently awarded by the state, voting Monday night with minimal discussion to keep the item in the hands of the School Finance Review Commission.
School administrators and teachers spoke during the council’s public participation session Monday night to urge them to urge the mayor to award the funds to the School Department as soon as possible. The funds, they stated, would be used to hire back teachers who had been previously laid off and to reduce class sizes throughout the school district.
“We are asking the Mayor and the City Council to give the School Department the money that State Senator Sal DiDomenico worked very hard to get, and the State Legislature allocated to the students in the Everett Public Schools when the final state budget was passed on August 21 in the amount of $2,515,109,” said Assistant Superintendent of Schools Charles Obremski. “I know that the Mayor and the City Council will do the right thing and what’s best for the children of Everett, and will allocate this money to the children and the School Department and reduce our class sizes.”
However, the council declined to take the matter up on Monday. While an item was on the agenda to hold a Committee of the Whole meeting on the issue, when the issue was taken up, Councillor-at-Large John Hanlon, the first to speak on the item, immediately moved to refer it to the School Finance Review Commission, arguing that the council has “no authority to put money into a budget.”
After Hanlon made his motion, several councillors moved to call for the question, preventing any further debate on the item, to the visible irritation of several councillors. Only Councillors Fred Capone, Michael McLaughlin and Peter Napolitano voted against referring the question out, with Councillors Hanlon, Richard Dell Isola, Rosa DiFlorio, Anthony DiPierro, Michael Marchese, Wayne Matewsky, John Leo McKinnon and Stephen Simonelli voting for it.
The School Finance Review Commission is expected to meet on November 1 at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers on the third floor of City Hall. The meeting will be open to the public.
Later in the week, the Mayor’s Office and members of the School Department held a meeting on the funds, which the mayor described in an extended statement as “productive.” “This past week, my administration had a productive meeting with the School Department’s finance officials and I expressed my desire to ensure that funding to schools needs to go through a transparent process in which funds are spent wisely, efficiently, and prudently,” said DeMaria.
“That is why I am placing the issue of the $2.5 million in state funding before the city’s School Finance Review Commission for analysis and input. The Commission will also be closely reviewing non-instructional expenditures for appropriateness, which is certainly fair given that the school department has requested and received from the city a budget several million dollars above net school spending. This review process represents the same type of financial diligence and careful oversight that is applied to every other city department.”
“As mayor, my most important job is to carefully consider how we spend taxpayer money to provide city services, while maintaining long-term financial stability and keeping down how much we ask our residents to pay in taxes each year, especially those who are living pay check to pay check and struggling to make ends meet.”
The city and schools have been struggling over the funds since the Mayor announced several weeks ago that he would not send the funds to the City Council to transfer to the School Department, as had been anticipated by the schools and Senator DiDomenico, who fought for the funds at the State House. Instead the funds would be used by the city to reduce the tax rate and ameliorate some of the financial hardships created by its attempts to fix the school’s financial issues.
The Mayor’s Office is arguing that it has “fully funded” the School Department because it provided the School Department with $6 million over the “foundation budget” it was required to spend by the state, and that it taking this $2.5 million still leaves the School Department with $4 million over the foundation budget.
However, the School Department is arguing that if fully funded means being able to fund all of its employees and services, it has not been fully funded. School administrators stated earlier this year that they would need $10.5 million to be able to keep all School Department staff and services on with no raises. The City provided $6.5 million at the time to avoid catastrophic layoffs at the School Department, but the schools were still forced to lay off over 100 people to make ends meet.
Senator DiDomenico has backed the School Department’s claim, arguing that the Chapter 70 money had been awarded specifically to help the School Department address, among other things, the multimillion dollar hole blown in their budget by the state’s faulty method of counting students in need of free and reduced lunches. Should the money not go to its intended recipient, he stated, his ability to win state funds for the city in the future could be compromised.
A list ready to go
School officials stated before the council on Monday night that they have a list of teachers they are ready and eager to hire, and provided a detailed breakdown of the effects those hires would have on classroom sizes.
“We have met with the principals on a number of occasions since the beginning of the year, and we’ve developed a ‘critical needs’ section of who we need to hire right away, because of expanded class sizes,” said Assistant Superintendent Kevin Shaw.
According to Shaw’s presentation, the School Department is hoping to hire:
- A special education teacher and a paraprofessional at the Adams School
- A fifth grade teacher and a two special education teachers at the Madeline English School; the current class size averages at 30 students; the hires would bring that down to 23 students.
- Teachers in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh grades and a paraprofessional at the Keverian School, where class size averages at 29 students; the hires would bring that number down to 22.
- Third, fourth and sixth grade teachers, a special education teacher, an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher and three paraprofessionals at the Lafayette School; class sizes there average at 29 students; the hires would bring that down to 23.
- Fifth, seventh and eighth grade teachers, as well as a Technology teacher and a Physical Education teacher at the Parlin School. Currently, there are 27 students in each of the school’s four kindergarten classes; another teacher could bring that down to 22. In the other grades, class sizes average at 29; the hires would bring that down to 23.
- A kindergarten teacher is needed at the Webster School to bring class sizes down to 19 students; the school also needs Pre-K four year olds teachers. There are currently 22 to 24 kids in the school’s Pre-K four-year-old classes; another teacher would bring that down to 18
- Third and fifth grade teachers are needed at the Whittier School; class sizes there currently average at 27 students; the hires would bring that down to 20.
- One paraprofessional is needed at Everett High School.
In total, the School Department would hire 18 general education teachers, four special education teachers, six paraprofessionals, and one ELL teacher. Many of these teachers were laid off previously, as the School Department has struggled to fill a hole blown into its budget by changes in how the state allocates aid.
Everett residents and teachers were present to support the School Department’s request. Everett resident and Malden teacher Jessica Harrelson stated that while the City had allocated more money than it had to the schools, “the fact remains, there’s still a crisis.”
“Nearly 100 staff members quietly laid off over the summer, and according to the state legislatures own accounting, Everett is still $19 million short of being underfunded, let alone $2.5 million,” she said. “Just imagine what that money could do for students in Everett. We could have more teachers so that elementary school students would not be languishing in developmentally inappropriate classes of almost 30 children. There could be more special educators so that students in more pull out classes could actually see small groups, and not class sizes of 20. … This $2.5 million encompasses an ethical debt that the Massachusetts State Legislature already have to Everett parents, students and teachers. Every day, the fine staff of the Everett Public Schools work very hard under austerity conditions that we don’t recognize. They do more with less, every single day, to give our kids a world-class education. I’m reminded of the quote that budgets are moral documents, and that we fund what we value.”