City took $300,000 from Schools and Committee did nothing!!!

When I saw in Paul George’s Sun Column that the City took back $300,000 from the School Dept. I was at first shocked, then frustrated that at a time we know that students need updated textbooks and technology no one on the School Committee seemed to care.

Yes the City for the first time in many years not only met but according to the MDOE exceeded their net school spending in School year 2014/2015 by $300,000.

The fact is many communities exceed net school spending, yet the City Manager who is “committed” to education takes back the $300,000? Why?

More importantly why did people running for the School Committee not hear a word about this until the day before the election?

Parents should ask the current mayor why and how in his role as Chairman of the School Committee that the City Manager was allowed to take back $300,000 in funds from Schools without a vote of the City Council, School Committee or a public discussion on the floor during a City Council or School Committee meeting.

I asked the Manager and was informed that they believe since they met Net School Spending and the money was in fact unencumbered funds, the money would fall under “Free Cash” and that even though the Deputy Supt. of Schools submitted a request to keep all the excess school funds, the city claimed they needed the $300,000 and could legally take it.

It sets off some red flags about the city finances if they are so desperate that they need to take $300,000 of money from the schools and you can play semantic games all you want but in my view that money was indeed allocated to the school dept.

I was so frustrated that I looked at State Laws and found Chap 44 and section 33 B that stated:

Section 33B. (a) On recommendation of the mayor, the city council may, by majority vote, transfer any amount appropriated for the use of any department to another appropriation for the same department. In addition, the city council may, by majority vote, on recommendation of the mayor, transfer within the last 2 months of any fiscal year, or during the first 15 days of the new fiscal year to apply to the previous fiscal year, an amount appropriated for the use of any department other than a municipal light department or a school department to the appropriation for any other department, but the amount transferred from 1 department to another may not exceed, in the aggregate, 3 per cent of the annual budget of the department from which the transfer is made.

Except as provided in the preceding sentence, no transfer shall be made of any amount appropriated for the use of any city department to the appropriation for any other department except by a 2/3 vote of the city council on recommendation of the mayor and with the written approval of the amount of the transfer by the department having control of the appropriation from which the transfer is proposed to be made. No transfer involving a municipal light department or a school department shall be made under the previous sentence without the approval of the amount of the transfer by a vote of the municipal light department board or by a vote of the school committee, respectively.

Again I contacted the City and I want to be clear that they have been great and responsive to deal with. In their view, this did not fall under that Law since they didn’t consider this an appropriation.

At first I thought that maybe they were correct and I’m just a blogger not a finance guy so maybe this is okay. It still bugged me that the City would take money away from the schools, especially considering the structural deficit. So I contacted the State DOE and my question was responded to by the Executive Director of School Finance & District Support MA Department of Elementary & Secondary Education Jay Sullivan and he seemed to strongly disagree with the City when I asked the following:

:From Gerry [mailto:gnutter@comcast.net]
Sent: Wednesday, November 04, 2015 4:11 PM
To: Sfinance
Subject: Chapt 44 Section 33B

Good Afternoon,

I’m looking for some clarification regarding this section of the Mass State Law when it come to School Departments. If a City or Town’s school department has remaining unencumbered funds at the end of a Fiscal year and that city or town has met or exceeded its net school spending obligations, can the Manager of the town or City take back any amount of money without the vote of that city or town’s school committee?

I write a local blog and have heard that this may have happened but by reading this section of the Law it seems to me that at the very least, a vote of the committee was needed.

Section 33B. (a) On recommendation of the mayor, the city council may, by majority vote, transfer any amount appropriated for the use of any department to another appropriation for the same department. In addition, the city council may, by majority vote, on recommendation of the mayor, transfer within the last 2 months of any fiscal year, or during the first 15 days of the new fiscal year to apply to the previous fiscal year, an amount appropriated for the use of any department other than a municipal light department or a school department to the appropriation for any other department, but the amount transferred from 1 department to another may not exceed, in the aggregate, 3 per cent of the annual budget of the department from which the transfer is made.

Except as provided in the preceding sentence, no transfer shall be made of any amount appropriated for the use of any city department to the appropriation for any other department except by a 2/3 vote of the city council on recommendation of the mayor and with the written approval of the amount of the transfer by the department having control of the appropriation from which the transfer is proposed to be made. No transfer involving a municipal light department or a school department shall be made under the previous sentence without the approval of the amount of the transfer by a vote of the municipal light department board or by a vote of the school committee, respectively.
Thanks

Gerry Nutter

His Response seems to agree with my view:

From: “John J Sullivan”
To: “gnutter@comcast.net”
Cc: “Roger M Hatch (ESE)” , “Melissa King (ESE)” , “Christine M Lynch”
Sent: Thursday, November 5, 2015 9:57:16 AM
Subject: FW: Chapt 44 Section 33B

Mr. Nutter,

As the legislation states “No transfer involving a municipal light department or a school department shall be made under the previous sentence without the approval of the amount of the transfer by a vote of the municipal light department board or by a vote of the school committee, respectively.”

So no, no action can be taken unless the school committee votes to approve the amount of the transfer.

Jay Sullivan
Executive Director
School Finance & District Support
MA Department of Elementary & Secondary Education
75 Pleasant St.
Malden, MA 02148
(Ph) 781-338-6594
(Fax) 781-338-6530

There has been no vote and what is really infuriating is that this current Mayor and School Committee did NOTHING to stop it.

No mention on any agenda, no mention during radio interviews, nothing in the newspaper, on City Life, on Facebook. The committee or some members wanted Science Kits and other things and yet let this Manager walk away with $300,000 of money that could be used for our kids books, school repairs and technology purchases and they did NOTHING!

The City, School Committee and Manager knew the School Department was already facing a $1.2 Million dollar structural deficit, to take back over a quarter of a million dollars even if you think what you are doing is proper isn’t helpful to the Schools.

It took me less than a day to get a response from the State, where was the last Administration and where was this School Committee? Our students need textbooks, buildings need to be maintained , science kits needed, a roof at LHS patched (at the very least ) and yet no elected School Committee members including this Mayor questioned the City taking $300,000??

In the overall picture $300,000 is not a large dollar amount in the School or City Budget but when you know there is a structural deficit and has a school committee member allow the Manager to take back $300,000 without any member of this School Committee asking in a public meeting for clarification, confirmation or something is inexcusable .

They didn’t vote on it, didn’t fight it and didn’t seem to care and they seem to have intentionally not made that issue publicly known.

I hope someone now ask for an official State ruling and ask the Manager to look at this. I also hope that the Schools get the money back and it gets used it for books or technology improvements…NOT ON RAISES or to Settle Grievances!

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