Sunday Notes – School Budget Edition

There seems to be a little over half million dollar difference between what the city proposed for school spending and what the school administration is proposing. In a January letter City Manager Murphy recommended $161,526,094. The on-line school budget shows a total of $162,074,324

Including the Head of School at LHS – 25% or 6 Principals are being replaced for one reason or another (retirement, leaving, contract not renewed) – LHS, Murkland, Greenhalge, Morey, Sullivan and Stoklosa schools.

There is no school based budgeting breakdown presented even though the city MIS / Auditing Dept’s Munis program tracks and reports to the City Council quarterly in this fashion.

Two Level 3 schools with high discipline issues are losing teachers – It appears they are being reassigned to the STEM Academy.

d: Robinson Middle School will lose (3) teachers due to having an excess compared to other schools within the District. GN – The Robinson is a CITYWIDE school with kids from all over the city and up until the past few years had a horrible reputation. Now that it has begun to turn around they are removing teachers???

e: Sullivan Middle School will lose (1) teacher due to having an excess compared to other schools within the District.
f: McAvinnue Elementary had (1) additional Special Education Teacher and (1) additional ELL Teacher relatively more than other schools within the District.

I went back and listened to the Radio Replay of both the Mayor and Supt.of Schools this past Wednesday because they were talking about the upcoming 2017/2018 School Budget.

Last Night I listened again because I was also looking at the Budget presentation on-line that will be presented to the School Committee on Wednesday.

The first thing that caught my attention was that the Mayor claimed busing cost were $8.9 million this year but the budget presentation shows $9,043,069 which is $143,069 more than the Mayor stated. It appears transportation cost is closer to $9,000,000 – $8,994,750 but when you add in the salary of the Transportation coordinator which is split because he’s also the Director of the Parent Information Center its another $48,319 to get the $9,043,069

What has me really confused are these two items – 1st at the 2:06 mark in the interview with the Supt. he states that due to previous contractual obligations there is $800,000 in step salary increases due this year. Yet if you look at pages 18-22 which is the teachers salaries I can’t find the $800,000. I do see that on page 7 in the budget book it notes there is $1,000,000 in the suspense account to fund salary staff increases but I thought that was for a new contract since the UTL doesn’t have one? If the Supt. is saying there is already $800,000 due where is that money in the line items? Maybe that will be clarified during the budget review.

Then at the 2:40 mark in the Supt. interview he states when talking about Special Education out of district tuition cost that there is over a $5,000,000 cost increase yet on page 6 of the budget document it says Reduction in Special Education tuition costs of $1,759,853 through the reduction of Out of District placements…Which one is it?? A $5,000,000 increase or a $1,759,853 reduction? On page 23 of the budget book it does appear the cost is reduced but if that is so why claim on the radio it increased?

IN the radio interview the Supt. stated that they made over $5,000,000 in cuts but on page 6 where Budget Decreases For 2018 are listed it doesn’t appear to be $5,000,000 worth:

2. Reduction of one Clerical Position through a retirement that will not be replaced.
3. Reduction of the Alternative School Director Position. The person currently in this role will be assuming another position in the district.($109,572)
4. Reduction of the Murkland After-School Planning Stipends – These stipends were provided by the state as a part of a turnaround grant. The source of funding was eliminated as the grant has expired and the District will discontinue the planning time from the local budget. ($63,000)
Reduction of the Boston Lyric Opera Project.($16,000)
Reduction of 23 Library Aides. ($669,522)

2 interesting “reductions” which caught my eye and are sure to cause what I think is unnecessary frictions are:

All maintenance is covered under the City budget. The Heating Maintenance,Energy Management Systems,LHS HVAC Tech a two Plumbing positions and the Bld repair and maintenance line items that were in the 2016/2017 Lowell Public School’s budget have been eliminated. (that totals $429,256)

All School Resource Officers are planned to be funded through the City of Lowell’s budget and in lieu of being deducted from the Lowell Public School’s budget. In the past the City paid for all but 3 and this year the school administration doesn’t want to pay for those 3 any longer. (That would be a $263,594 Savings)

Those two items reduce the school budget by $692,850 but that cost would need to be absorbed by the city. At a time when the city is looking to raise taxes by 6% – 7.5% to pay their share of a $300,000,000 school, is the Administration really going to battle the Manager over $692,850? It is my understanding the City or in this case the Manager’s office has NOT agreed to cover these additional cost.

Is the City Manger willing to get into a fight over this amount? The city can argue that under this Manager, they have exceeded Net School spending by millions and the Manager has stated that the School Dept. needs to live within their budget. They can point out that charter school assessment is up to $1,600,000.00 this year or point out the auditors finding that the school administration wrongly transferred a million dollars last year (to avoid returning free cash to the city) and that because the CFO and Superintendent didn’t understand the Circuit Breaker account they cost themselves over half a million dollars in funding.

The School Administration is putting the School Committee in a position that they either have to propose cuts to meet the Managers suggested funding or be willing to lobby the Manager and get City Councilor’s to also lobby him to add that amount into the final budget before it is presented to the Council or approve a budget with a known structural deficit and hope the CFO and Superintendent find the money during the year.

At a time when the City is already divided with two groups battling over the High School location and Councilor Elliott and Mayor Kennedy seemingly trying to form a third group made up of people who don’t think we can financially support any high school do we need anymore infighting? Especially over $692,850?

I wonder if any current School Committee member will ask the Superintendent to clarify the statements he made on the radio compared to what’s in the budget. This isn’t the first time he has made statements that are factually questionable on the radio yet in the past this school committee hasn’t required him to correct or clarify those statements. It may just be easier for me to register to speak at the School Committee meeting Wednesday night and ask myself.

Maybe they don’t care what he says. They certainly didn’t react negatively towards him when they found out he didn’t inform them about the LSAA concern about parking that led to the filing of an unfair labor practices and didn’t question the administrations on the auditors findings of improper budget transfers.

The Food Service Acct Seems to get charged for a lot of cost, some you can understand and some that don’t appear to be food service related and I’m hoping someone ask for an explanation because I’ve heard this account was very restricted. The budget book states

a: The Superintendent’s salary was $185,000 in FY 2015-16, but a portion was paid from the Food Service Revolving Account.
c: The Assistant Superintendent for Finance’s salary was $145,000, but he started on February 16, 2016 and a portion of his salary was paid from the Food Service Revolving Account. Additionally, an interim Assistant Superintendent was in place.
d: The Director of Human Resource’s salary was $91,983, but a portion of the salary was paid from the Food Service Revolving Account.

e: The Food Service Revolving Account reimburses administrative personnel for their time attributed to the program. *GN – (This year a little over $27,000 is being charged back to Food service for the above people)

The Director of ICTS was paid $99,809, but his salary was offset by a reimbursement from the Food Service Revolving Account.
The Computer Network Manager K-12 earned $75,000 in 2015-16, but this salary was offset by the Food Service Account.
The Assistant Network Manager earned $65,000 in 2015-16, but was offset by the Food Service Account
The Food Service Revolving Account is paying for a portion of the Custodian salaries that are attributed to cleaning the kitchens and dining rooms throughout the District.($661,112)
Food Service Revolving Fund – Café Health Insurance – $458,161
Food Service Revolving Fund – Custodial Health Insurance – $115,204
Food Service Revolving Fund – Para Health Insurance – $104,137

Budget Increases for FY2018
1. The STEM academy will increase staffing to accommodate projected District enrollment increases. $335,000 has been included in the FY2018 budget to accommodate the additional enrollments of a minimum of 100 students:
(2) Grade 5 Classroom Teachers (2) Grade 6 Classroom Teachers (1) Guidance Counselor
(1) Physical Education Teacher

2. Eight Schools (seven elementary schools and one middle school) currently have half time Math Resource Teaching positions. The addition of (4) FTEs at a cost of $200,000 has been added to the budget to provide full-time Math Resource Teachers in these schools.

3. STEM Lead Teacher Stipends will be added in all elementary and middle schools to coordinate and infuse STEM into the Science Curriculum.

4. $2,421,220 has been added for a new Special Education Day School including rental cost ($152,000), equipment and staff:
(1) Program Coordinator
(1) Occupational Therapist
(1) Speech Therapist
(2) BCBAs
(1) School Clerk
(8) Special Education Teachers (24) Paraprofessionals

5. $775,424 has been added for four new District-wide Special Education CSA classrooms with:
(4) Special Education Teachers (10) Paraprofessionals
(1) COTA
(1) Speech Language Assistant