Sunday Notes Feb. 7th 2016

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Before taking a bow, can someone explain DESE “fuzzy math?

It is always a great thing to hear that the City exceeded Net School Spending. When I saw that in the city council packet I posted about it. It is positive news for the city and the school system.

However for those of us who pay attention and somewhat can follow the numbers, before the City Administration and Council congratulates itself on the Council floor during the live broadcast Tuesday, can the CFO or Manager explain how this feat was done. Looking at the numbers from DESE (Dept. of elementary and secondary education) it leave me scratching my head trying to make sense of them.

For example, in the Council packet we are informed that the City is on pace to exceed Net School spending by over $5,000,000 during this fiscal year. That leads me to ask the administrations on BOTH the City and School side to explain these numbers.

If you look on the School Dept. Website you see the amount of money in the School Budget.

On the School Website they show us that the State requirement for Net School Spending is $178,524,706. It shows what the State Aid is and what the City is required to contribute. This year the city number shown is $43,013,441

The budget also tells us that to keep all programs or a level service operating budget from the 2014/2015 year it would cost $155,508,389 of which the City of Lowell contributes in cash $18,368,116 , Chapt 70 State Aid $135,511,265 leaving $1,140,273 short to meet that expense.

To deal with that shortfall the last School Committee on recommendation from the outgoing administration voted to transfer from the FY15 Salary Surplus Acct the sum of $1,140,273 to meet the $155,508,389 figure.

That would mean to meet the required Net School Spending of $178,524,706 the City “Charged Back” for maintenance of effort or to put it simpler for cost the city incurs for services related to the School Dept. not captured in the budget or given in”cash” in this calendar year that would be $24,156,590.

The City Budget also reflects the $154,368,116 figure.

In the Council Packet that has the DESE letter which I am also told is just an estimate based on numbers collected to date, it shows that the “School Committee” contributed $146,198,587 while the City in what appears to be charge backs contributed $40,552,164 for a total of $186,750,751.

It even shows what appears to be an increase of $165,000 in Net School Spending requirement which now shows it should be $178,601,206

2015:2016

If the School Operations budget is in fact $155,508,389 what is the $146,198,587 figure shown? Is that just the amount spent to date ? That would be alarming since we still have almost 4.5 months remaining in the school year. The City Charge-backs appear to have gone down from $43,013,441 to $40,552,164 how and why? Why is the Net School Spending requirement up $165,000? If The Lowell school dept. receives grants, is this money counted toward the Net School Spending?

Is it one of the reasons the City is on pace to exceed it by such a wide margin? In the past DESE’s numbers have been off but usually on the low side. At one point they had Lowell only exceeding net school spending in 2014/2015 by $300,00 before all the numbers were in.

So while it is a good thing to exceed requirements, it is even better if you can explain the numbers to the people watching at home and the parents who are very concerned about the budget after hearing the last school committee warning of possible cuts in the year ahead and of a deficit. How can you have a supposed $1.1 Million dollar deficit when you allegedly are $5,000 over your Net School Spending requirement?

I’m no math major nor accountant but in this case the math is so fuzzy that even a simple average guy like me see’s red flags when the numbers look so out of balance.

Did new School Committee ignore last School Committees warning?

I always felt the incoming school committee was put in a no-win position by the last Committee. They had an inexperienced Supt., no CFO, no contract with the UTL and a $1.1 million dollar deficit walking in the door. His advocating for PARCC testing at the 11th hour also put the committee in a tough position, especially since the last committee voted against going to PARCC in November.

Talk in the bubble was this was a test to see how much support Committee would show to this Supt. and if the two holdovers would show any support to a Supt. they didn’t vote for.

They are trying to work with the new Supt. whose handling of the racial texting issues was questionable and his comments to the SUN “The beauty of me in all of this is you can go ahead and fire me any time you want. I’m ready to retire, so I don’t really care about any of the politics” didn’t sit well with them.

Many in the Administration and the city are concerned of his hiring a CFO with no Experience in Massachusetts municipal financing.

Reportedly this Supt. has not tried to form my strong working relationship with the City Manager or the City CFO. He won’t get much support if he tries to get headlines like he did in Winchendon Winchendon superintendent rips town manager over deficit claim

By settling the contract with the UTL reportedly based on numbers supplied. by the Supt. did the Committee put students in danger of losing Paraprofessionals, middle school athletics, middle school chorus, band and even the Knowledge Bowl?

Even with an estimated $3 Million dollars in State Aid some are concerned cuts will still be required.

Hopefully the Committee will be able to look back and say the settlement wasn’t a mistake but the last Committee felt that they couldn’t settle with this type of raise because it meant cuts had to follow. Time will tell who was correct.

Citywide Parent Council has solid Foundation to rebuild on

When I announced a movement to relaunch the Citywide Parent Council I stated in my post at that time

“The City needs a City Wide Parent Council or something like it and it can’t be run by a loud mouth blogger like myself.”

I recruited people who had shown an interest in the Schools. Chris Roux has work tirelessly in getting this group relaunched and in recruiting parents. You will see that effort this week, he is facilitating the next meeting Thursday Feb. 11th at the Sullivan School @ 6:30 dealing with facilities. Those of you who attend will receive a lot of valuable information.

Ben Opara is the calmest most easy going gentleman I have met who wants to build consensus among all people, he will be a very good leader. The foundation has been cast with Patrick Farmer aboard to assist and advocate along with being the secretary. Kim Scott had been a strong advocate for restarting the Citywide Parent Council while on the school committee , she has been involved with the CPC before joining the School Committee and now that she no longer serves she has time to dedicate to this cause.

I have helped by advocating and providing publicity but feel that I am also a bit of an anchor. You may have noticed that I have strong opinions and am not shy about sharing them. While that is valuable when writing a blog and contributing to 980 WCAP on Saturday Morning Live with Warren Shaw, it may reflect negatively on the CPC which isn’t fair to them.

I’m stepping back from being a face of the CPC to allow those who have ideas and a voice to be able to be heard over my big mouth. It is only fair to them. I will continue to promote their meetings, arrange for them to be on the Saturday show and offer advise and guidance to those who want it but to be fair to them, has I stated from the very start, I cannot and should not be he face of this very important group.

I urge all parents to join this group, support this group and advocate for your student.

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