Sunday Notes November 29th 2015

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In preparation for the relaunch of the Citywide Parent Council tomorrow at 6;30 at the Robinson School, I have been reaching out to many different people getting their expertise, opinions and thoughts on how we succeed in this endeavor. I Thank them all for their time and kindness. I also Thank Kendall Wallace and the Sun for mentioning the meeting yesterday and in today’s paper.

I haven’t been blogging much and in all likelihood this BLOG will be concentrating on school related issues for the most part while I do what I can to help the Citywide Parent Council succeed. Don’t worry on occasion I’ll make sure to include a few nuggets of interest like:

A) NO there is NO truth to the stupid rumor that there is a rift between State Rep. Golden and Councilor Rourke
B) NO there is no truth to the rumor Mayor Elliott has given up hope for a second term and I’m hearing his minions are applying pressure to anyone they can to call, text or email the various Councilors to plead his case.
C) B may answer the ? of what/who is Rodney Elliot? Statesman like he has shown as Mayor or Selfish Politician as we saw the 2-3 years prior to his selection as Mayor?
D) The concern of the Cambodian Community regarding Ed Kennedy being Mayor is that Mayor Elliott has done such a great job reaching out to that community and attending events that if Mayor Kennedy doesn’t do the same or worse sends the Vice-Mayor in his place, it will be a sign of disrespect toward that community. The Community seems to forget that prior to being Mayor, Councilor Elliott didn’t do a lot of outreach either. Hopefully Mayor Kennedy will be able to win the community over by showing up at events starting NOW and continuing when he becomes Mayor.

Education is an Investment but there is no doubt that there is a cost for that Investment.

I have started to look at Net School Spending and how that works in order to try to better understand the funding portion of the City / School Budget. It isn’t an easy study but I’m fortunate to be able to call on various people in the educational and municipal field to try and get a better understanding. I’m still only part way there.

Here’s my basic understanding using the format from the community of Georgetown which I thought had the best description for me to use and edit for Lowell

What is Net School Spending?
I. Three Component
A. A foundation or Minimum spending needed. Adjusted annually to reflect changes in enrollment, demographics, inflation, and geographical wage differences.
B. A local contribution or local appropriations required to meet net school spending.
C. Chapter 70 Aid is the share of the foundation budget funded by the state.

II. The Foundation Formula
A. Required Net School Spending = Local Contribution + Chapter 70 Aid.
B. Required Net School Spending = Foundation Budget.

III. The Concepts
A. Foundation Enrollment – the number of students Lowell is responsible for educating financially as of October 1 each year.
B. Foundation Budget – increases or decreases based upon the foundation enrollment and the inflation factor used by the state.
C. Local Contribution is calculated by increasing the previous year’s contribution by the Municipal Revenue Growth factor and adjusting this number based upon Lowell’s ability to pay, the latter based on the state’s aggregate wealth model.
D. Municipal Revenue Growth Factor is Lowell’s percentage increase in local revenues from one year to the next as calculated by the Department of Revenue.
E. The Aggregate Wealth Model looks at both personal income wealth statistics and property wealth statistics in Lowell.
IV. Actual Net School Spending includes all funds expended by the School Committee via the budget, grants, and other funds as well as certain city expenditures, excluding certain types of expenditures such as transportation, adult education, and long-term debt.

So looking at the 2014/2015 School Year, Lowell had a total budget of $154,484.616.00.

Of that $18,755,851.00 was a “Cash” contribution along with a Supplement Council appropriation of $1,400,000.

The State contribution was $135,128,765.00

Using the above formula, Lowell’s “Minimum” contribution towards meeting their Net School Spending Requirements was higher than the cash contributions.

The City under the state Law is allowed to do ” Charge-backs” under what is called a schedule 19. It allows the City to basically write-off cost associated to the schools from the City perspective and counts towards the city meeting their Net School Spending.

However there are several conflicting statements in the 2014/2015 budget book that seem to be somewhat misleading and need further explanation. For instance it states on page 33 of the budget book that School nurses are paid from the Health Department budget. However there is a charge-back towards Net School Spending of over a Million Dollars.

It also states on that same page that Lowell spends the majority of General Fund appropriations directly on schools when in fact the Majority of School funding comes from the state.

The charge-back for the Auditor’s Dept is close to half of the total budget for that dept.
$496,241 was the entire budget..$208,416 was written off as. charge-back.

Here are a few examples of these “Charge-backs” for the 2014/2015 year.

Administrative Services – The cost of municipal accounting, auditing, central data processing and central purchasing.

$344,324.00 – The actual expended budget for the Office of the Treasurer
$208,416.00 – The actual expended budget for the Office of the Auditor
$594,054.00 – The actual expended budget for the M.I.S. Department
$ 93,670.00 – The actual expended budget for the Purchasing Department
$170,930.00 – The indirect costs of administering employee and non-employee insurance programs shall be computed by multiplying (1) the costs of salaries and supplies for such administration by (2) the number of school department employees covered by insurance divided by the total number of municipal employees covered by insurance.

That’s $1,411,394.00 in Administrative cost.

The “Charge-back” for TRASH pick-up/recycling is $169,064.00 – Electric – $2,086,290 Gas – $1,405,993 That’s a Total of $3,661,347.00

School Nurses/Supplies – $1,375.469 – School Resource Officers – $490,952.00
That’s a Total of $1,866,421.00

Sadly there is a charge-back titled Operation and Maintenance of School Facilities. Listed under this is a $23,461.00 dollar charge explained this way: The direct costs of salaries, supplies, materials and contractual expenses for the maintenance of school buildings, grounds and equipment. This figure shall be recorded from the total services completed by Department of Public Works staff as determined by work orders closed by Lowell Public Schools staff documented in the Lowell Public Schools Building Maintenance Work Order System.

If you’ve ever been in the schools, you know that the amount listed is grossly under what the actual needs are.

However under the same header is a listing for Snow and Ice removal – $102,303.00

In Total Lowell was able to Charge-Back a Total of $21,594,054 towards their Net school spending requirements. By doing so and counting their cash contribution and the extra $1.4 million Lowell in theory EXCEEDED their net school spending by $315,000.00 (approx).

Since they took back $300,00 in unencumbered funds at the end of last fiscal year is it really exceeding?

So while no actual money is withheld, the question is does the School Dept. get the services they are charged for? Does over $1.4 Million for “Administrative” cost seem high to you?

The M.I.S charge (Management Information System) seems excessive for hosting the schools Websites and emails. There is no Internet connections at most schools. In 2015 their Total Budget was $1,453,165 – of that $594,054.00 was charged to the Schools which is just a little more than the total salary for the 8 staff.

Do all similar communities charge for Snow and Ice (Worcester – Brockton – Fall River)?

With the composting of food and the separation required for it, will cost of Trash and Recycling go up?

Could any of these Charge-backs be lowered and has a result the cash contribution increased to assist the schools in offering direct services for the students?

The Citywide Parent Council can ask some questions and get clearer explanations on these issues but we need YOU to be part of the Council.

We need a diverse group from all social, economic and cultural backgrounds to truly reflect the student body and the parents of Lowell students.

Please consider joining us tomorrow at the Robinson School 110 June St. from 6:30 -8:00 and hear more, ask questions and join us to show that together we can make a difference.

Education is an Investment, not an Expense!

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