School Budget deficit really $869,522.00!!

School Committee Approved Budget $162,942,846
Lowell City Council Approved School Budget $162,073,324

Difference – $869,522.00

With the Lowell Schools ready to open at the end of this month, I’ve been concerned that the Manager hasn’t funded the $250,000 he “promised” but it turns out that not only does the city not have a school bus contract in place but it appears the School Dept. Budget is actually short $869,522.00.

Even if the City Manager funds the $250,000 he “promised” to the School Dept. in June the budget shortfall will still be $619,522.00

The School Dept. on recommendation from the Supt. and Asst. Supt. of Finance approved a budget for $162,942,846 based on State Aid (Ch 70) of $144,679,262 – The Mass State Senate had indicated Lowell would receive the additional $600,000 in Chapt. 70 in their version of the budget.

That was while the State budget was still NOT APPROVED.

How and why you approve a budget BEFORE the funding is 100% secure is beyond rational explanation. You could / should have set money into a suspense accounting pending funding approval. Better to eliminate jobs in June than 4 weeks before the beginning of school but it was approved by this committee.

The City Council passed a School Budget of $162,073,324 based on State Aid of $144,067, the City Manager’s verbal “promise” of finding an additional $250,000 that he could not assign at that time.

When the State budget compromise was done and the State budget approved, according to the DESE Website which you can see above and below, it shows Lowell Received only $144,067,633 in Chapt. 70 funding not the additional $600,000 submitted by the Senate.

So where is the remaining $619,522.00 going to come from? According to the June report submitted by the Asst. Supt. of Finance to the School Committee, the School Dept. was ending the 2016/2017 School Fiscal year with no money remaining but money targeted for purchase orders not yet released.

So did the School Dept. cancel PO’s? In the same report showing no funds remaining the Asst. Supt. of Finance stated the following.

We are holding over $900,000 purchase orders (see attached) and will only release them when there is sufficient monies to fund these orders. This will insure that we will not exceed the approved budget. Purchase orders that are not processed in 2016-17 may be processed in 2017-18 if there is sufficient budget.

In June Mayor Kennedy had the following motion on a City Council Agenda:

9.4. M. Kennedy – Req. City Mgr. Reconcile The FY18 Budget With Regards To The School Department.

The next meeting the Manager responded:

Does anyone know if a written response was provided and what it said?

We may learn the answers to this on Monday when the School Finance Subcommittee meets.

IF PO’s were cut and the $900,000 was spent, does the School Dept. go back to the City for more funding or do they have an emergency meeting to discuss possible cuts?

No matter how this is resolved for the current school year, the 2018/2019 budget has that $869,522.00 deficit even before you add in the cost of salary increases which the Supt. had pegged around $3,000,000…so before health insurance, special education or transportation increases occur next year’s budget is looking at an additional need of almost $4,000,000

That’s before the Cawley School Committee candidates want to add the cost of busing to the current High School into the budget, which would be approx. another $1.4 Million dollars. Where is this money going to come from?

Does this LARGE shortfall highlight the real reason someone wanted to reopen the Transportation contract and try to find some savings?

I’ve reached out to both the Asst. Supt. of Finance and the City Manager’s Office and City CFO to try and get some clarification / explanation. So far no one has responded.

Sadly never a dull moment when it comes to School Finance and one of the main reasons I am running for School Committee, to get these fiscal questions addressed BEFORE they become a problem for the Schools or the City!

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