Even though it is a Public Document that was distributed to the School Committee last Friday Supt. K and his Administration who are responsible for posting the School Committee agenda and packet have not yet done so has of 10:30 am Monday August 14th.
The School Committee 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 on May 17th – 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.
On May 30th The City Council passed a School Budget of $162,073,324 based on State Aid of $144,067,633..plus the City Manager’s verbal “promise” of finding an additional $250,000 that he could not assign at that time.
On June 13th for the June 21st SC meeting the Asst. Supt worded a recommendation that appears like he seems surprised that the Budget passed on May 30th had a shortfall. Saying Connor Baldwin “had disclosed” that information when in reality it was very clearly specified in the budget. The School Committee approved the motion but it was never carried forward as a formal motion on a City Council Agenda (3 meetings since motion was approved.)
Now the State Budget was signed on July 17th (my birthday) and DESE had the numbers posted on July 18th and yet the School Dept. waited until August 16th to bring forth suggestions on how to deal with this deficit.
Here is what the School Committee has to vote in this Wednesday.
On the surface they don’t appear to be drastic or devastating but I was surprised that it cost $10,000 per employee for fringe benefits! I thought it was closer to $7,500
When you look at the overall performance by this Asst. Supt. of Finance and the lack of accurate and correct information to this committee then you need to be concerned about the future and letting this continue.
Last year’s end of year accounting at one time included charging $80,000 of the Supt. salary to the Food Service Acct. so that ‘Free Cash” was maintained by the School Administration and it took until September to straighten that out along with a negative review on the practice from the independent auditors.
This year AGAIn the Administration is playing fast and loose with best practice accounting procedures again with the intent of not letting “Free Cash” go back to the city. The Asst. Supt. also admits to some bad budget planning and explains the how and why for these errors.
To highlight what I’m talking about I point to some end of year budget transfers and the explanation he states all found in this week’s packet.
In late August of 2016,after the budget was adopted a grant funding the kindergarten paraprofessionals in the amount of $600,000 was eliminated by the State. The District decided to maintain the program with the paraprofessionals in place. Because the District decided to fund the paraprofessionals from the regular operating budget that meant the District had a potential looming deficit.
Only he fails to mention that this very same School Committee took a vote to go back to the City Council to try to get the additional funds and like the June 21st vote the Administration and/or School Committee failed to follow it through.
He explains other overruns that resulted in large Line items shortfalls with these excuses which highlight a serious lack of knowledge when creating the Lowell School Budget.
Secretary salaries were over budget by $387,000 due to two reasons: 1) $200,000 was originally budgeted from the food service revolving fund instead the credits were charged to the paraprofessionals account. The paraprofessional accounts have a set time they are helping students in the cafeteria. Therefore it is a more precise accounting to track the time the paraprofessional’s salary can be charged to the food service account. 2) The remainder of the salary differential is due to the lateness of the resolution in the employment contract with the clerical union.The 2015-16 clerical staffing budget was based on the salaries from 2013-14school year.
A social worker was budgeted as a guidance counselor incorrectly therefore the social worker budget was over-spent whereas the guidance counselor budget was under-spent.
The high school custodial budget was under-budgeted whereas the K-8 custodial budget was over-budgeted.There is still an over-spent budget amount of $142,804 between these two accounts. This is mostly attributable to budgeting too large of an offset for food service reimbursement. The offset was budgeted at $785,531,whereas the actual amount was $661,112.
The health insurance budget was over-spent by $661,795.68. This is attributable to several factors (see table titled What were the offsets to the Health Insurance account in FY 17? under additional questions from the finance sub-committee meeting).
What you see is this, in some cases in the past they have overcharged accounts like the food service, this year they corrected that. The Supt. and Asst. Supt. also decided that instead of charging the Health insurance benefits to the Grant that the salary or a portion of the salary was charged to, chose to charge those expenses to the City Line Item and over spend it to use the “local funds” so they would not go back to the City’s “Free Cash”. They now have the option of possibly charging the grants for more services this year but that comes at a cost of using local funds over the awarded grants.
In other words they contributed to the shortfall that now exist because had they followed what is generally considered “best practice” and has been done in the past, and the School Committee followed through on their own approved motions, the City would have been in better position to fund the total $869,000 shortfall that the Supt. and Asst. Supt. created.
This again Highlights the need for School Committee members who will ask these fiscal questions and demand accountability before we close the fiscal year or approve unfunded budgets.