Sunday Notes May 29th 2016

cut your nose off to spite your face

IF You are going to stick your nose in… It may get cut off!!

According to the Sun “The City Council is looking for greater accounting of how much it costs the school district to allow out-of-district students to attend Lowell schools.”

When Councilor Leahy cautioned that the council may be overstepping its bounds by reaching into a school issue , Councilor Rodney Elliott stated said he was making the request “knowing our school system is bursting at the seams.” while Councilor Mercier responded “”This is my business. This is my issue,”

I’m of the opinion that he made the motion out of petty political revenge and now this is a “Cutting off the nose to spite the face” type of fight the Council has stuck their nose in. I don’t think they should have. If you going to butt into School Committee business, then you better be prepared for the consequences.

The ego and political pettiness of Councilor Elliot and his insistence on continuing his personal fight against the UTL should be highlighted and remembered by all because this self-proclaimed “fiscal watchdog” who has his hand picked City Manager and his choice for School Superintendent in place will be the main reason the City WILL BE on the verge of a major financial crisis. He has to grandstand and irritate.

Many are tired of his grandstanding and his playing to the Boston station that he is the concerned councilor of the people. He should stop playing to the crowd for political gain and if he insist on asking about School Committee issues, ask and get an answer to this REAL Issue and DAMN tough financial question.

Where in the City Budget is the Line Item for the School Transportation Cost of $7.8 Million dollars??

BUS

Look at the numbers in the proposed budget for the School dept and follow my explanation of them.

Lowell’s Net School spending requirement is $183,238,362
The State in chap 70 funding is providing $138,588,381
The City is MANDATED by law to contribute a Minimum of $44,649,981
$19,856,851 of that is a direct cash contribution while the balance of $24,793,130 is in “Chargebacks” for services rendered by the city on behalf of the school dept.

The line item for The Lowell School Dept is $158,445,232 in the City budget.

The Lowell School Committee passed a $158,445,232 operating budget which is the Chapt.70 money $138,588,381 Plus the City Cash contribution of $19,856,851. The Operating Budget includes Transportation but the School Supt. was very very clear in his budget presentation.

The transportation costs are paid by the Lowell Public Schools, however it is the responsibility of the City. This requires an additional amount of $7,819,660 to fund transportation bringing the total budget to $158.4 million

I’ve looked at the Lowell City Budget and I cannot find a Transportation Line item.

However school transportation was accounted for under earlier Managers/Mayors/ School Committee’s and School Superintendents does not really matter today. Councilor Elliot drove out the last Manager, CFO, Auditor(s) and the Deputy Supt. of Finance, he has “his people” in place and they now have to deal with this issue.

It was “Mayor” Elliot and the 3 former school committee people who didn’t want Jay Lang who worked well with the city side and instead chose Dr. K. Then one ran for Council and lost, Councilor Elliott didn’t get back the Mayor’s job and the other two left.

None of the 4 addressed the Transportation issue publicly during their time on the school committee that I recall.

This current Superintendent (again Rodney’s choice) has made it clear in his budget message that in his view the CITY owes the School Dept. $7.8 million dollars for School Transportation and he wants the money.

This current School Committee and Mayor like the past Committee just ignored this transportation issue for whatever reason, be it political or in city’s best financial interest just as apparently other former committees did.

Maybe former Mayor Elliott along with the last School Committee were to busy running up $800,000 in grievances from the UTL and not being able to settle a contract with the union to address transportation. Some even focused on the cost of 36 students rather than the cost of transportation and why it wasn’t funded.

Of course the same group had issues with the UTL who successfully won grievances against them. This attack on 36 students out of 14,000 seems to be politically motivated.

We know they were busy making sure to hire a Supt. with very little experience, no financial background and a who cares where the money comes from attitude instead of addressing the transportation cost during their tenure.

The New Supt. sure lived up to his “who cares where the $$ come from” attitude in his first budget has Lowell Superintendent!! He called out the Manager and City Council for $7.8 million dollars MORE!!

If the Council really wants to waste time looking into what the cost of 36 students are, I assure you, it is a lot less than the $7.8 million dollar cost of transportation that needs to be accounted for.

Looking at how tight the overall City budget is and how little “Free Cash” exist does the Fiscal Watchdog / Councilor really think fighting over 36 students out of 14,000 is the best financial move for the city?

The Council stepped into what I think is a stupid fight based on political revenge. Councilor Elliott played up to Fox 25 for a 2nd time grandstanding on petty distraction issues. It sickened me and others to the point that I now have to ask this question and will continue to ask it until it is answered either by the Manager or if needed a formal request to DESE.

I’ve looked at the existing laws concerning ED Reform and Net School spending and transportation cost and responsibility seems to be pretty clearly spelled out.

Ed Reform is VERY VERY Clear – (Bold me)

Section 6. In addition to amounts appropriated for long-term debt service, school lunches, adult education, student transportation, and tuition revenue, each municipality in the commonwealth shall annually appropriate for the support of public schools in the municipality and in any regional school district to which the municipality belongs an amount equal to not less than the sum of the minimum required local contribution, federal impact aid, and all state school aid and grants for education but not including equity aid, for the fiscal year. Based on the amounts specified in section twelve, the allotments described in section thirteen, and the definitions and other provisions in this chapter, the commissioner shall estimate and report such amounts to each municipality and regional school district as early as possible, but no later than March first for the following fiscal year.

DESE (Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education) is also very clear defining Net School Spending..(again BOLD ME) “Net school spending”, the total amount spent for the support of public education, including teacher salary deferrals and tuition payments for children residing in the district who attend a school in another district or other approved facility, determined without regard to whether such amounts are regularly charged to school or non-school accounts by the municipality for accounting purposes; provided, however, that net school spending shall not include any spending for long term debt service, and shall not include spending for school lunches, or student transportation

So will these Councilors who supported Elliot’s motion concerning the cost for 36 students continue to BANG the anti-union drum and rally against children of Lowell Teachers without looking at this Transportation issue?? If you’re in for a dime, then you should be in for a dollar and get this questioned answered.

Maybe I’m just missing it, maybe the self-proclaimed fiscal watchdog and his big brother City Manager have this addressed in a budget line item that I totally missed and they will show me. I’ve asked and they haven’t yet but maybe they are just yanking me around. I’ll ask again

How is Lowell paying for School Transportation when its budget is showing just the cost of meeting NET SCHOOL Spending??

In my view, Councilor Elliott needs a muzzle and needs to be held accountable for pushing this city to the financial brink if it turns out transportation hasn’t been properly accounted for. He was the Chair of the School Committee and never addressed the transportation cost. Now he wants to grandstand and pontificate on one issue but continue to ignore another? Not allowed. He either shuts up on all school issues or addresses them all beginning with transportation.

I’m not the only one concerned with city finances
Joe Smith points out this concern in a recent Facebook post:

A 22% increase in sewer rates forecast, while the projection from last year was that we would see a 12% increase. Hmm, that is another $1M plus from Lowell rate-payers, apparently do to a significant drop in the expected revenue from our neighboring communities. Was last year’s forecast that far off, or has something changed? And even with this increase, the fund balance hit will be nearly $1M, making another big increase likely next year.

FREE CASH

In this Week’s Council Packet a clearer explanation on why it is under a Million was offered, which makes sense – The amount of certified free cash is lower than recent years because of the Administration’s decision to utilize end-of-year surpluses to bring down the significant snow and ice deficit of FY2015. $1.9 million in surplus appropriations were transferred by the City Council in June of 2015 to reduce the deficit to a figure that would not additionally burden the tax levy. Had that transfer not occurred, the free cash number would have been higher by $1.9 million, but the city would have had to amortize $1,017,805 annually over three years, as opposed to the $500,000 that is currently being amortized.

Moving Cash

Also in this week’s Council Packet is the following Manager’s request – Vote-Transfer $398,786.98 (funding for salary stabilization)

Attached to this memorandum is a proposed transfer which requires City Council approval. The purpose of the transfer is to utilize funds from FY2016 as a financing source for the settlement of collective bargaining agreements in next year’s budget. Monies were budgeted in FY16 in the City Manager’s Department towards this purpose. This transfer will allow the funds to be carried forward into the next fiscal year.

Now that a number of groups have ratified their successor contracts and others are near completion, we have a more complete picture of the funding needs for FY20l7 . A small portion of projected savings in the city Manager’s heating/ gas budget is also being included to complete the necessary financing for next year.

Creating a New Dept.

This week’s Agenda also calls for creation of an Ordinance-Create a Finance Department, Reorganize Various Financial Departments, Create a Budget Department, create one new position and salary; Deputy Chief Financial Officer.

Fiance 101

One of the really important parts of this years budget presentation is a section called MUNICIPAL FINANCES 101. The City tries to explain in very simple terms for people like myself the basics of Municipal Finances and what the terms you hear tossed around actually mean.

The budget presentation explains that the majority of the material in this section are based on the GOVERNING Guide to Financial Literacy © 2014, which has been modified by the City of Lowell with permission and encourages people to “go back to the basics”, by visiting GOVERNING’s FINANCE 101 Special Series which is available online at http://www.governing.com/finance101.

I’ve taken the liberty of downloading and saving this section to make it easy for people because I believe this is a great tool that people can use to try to better understand Municipal Finances at least a little more.

MUNICIPAL FINANCES 101

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