Sunday Notes- Defending the role of a School Committee Member – What’s the harm in asking?

C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. Have Law Department Explore What Steps Are Necessary To Allow Children To Attend Neighborhood Schools And To Obtain Release From City Consent Decree.

C. Elliott – Req. City Mgr. Report On The Process Of Bidding Of School Bus Contract And Provide Report On Initiating Busing Of Lowell High Students This Year / Next Year.

First of all despite what you may hear from uninformed talk show host, going back to “neighborhood schools” isn’t an easy proposition, especially because of the creation of Charter Schools and the following State Law. (unless this is another law radio host and city councilor’s decide it’s ok to ignore).

Districts that utilize neighborhood zones to establish eligibility for transportation services for its students, however, may not impose a geographical zone around a charter school and limit transportation for students attending the charter school to only those students who reside within this zone. See 603 CMR 1.07(3)(a).

Charter schools are district-wide schools whose “zone” is the entire school district, such as a single high school or vocational school. The school district’s obligations to transport students who attend a charter school extend to all students who reside within the school district because all students who reside within the school district within which the charter school is located have a similar opportunity to attend the charter school.

I’d say based on that requirement it would be very hard to try to deny a parent in Centralville transportation to the STEM academy if they wanted their child to attend or from Centralville to the Daley. I haven’t looked to see if a court challenge has been issued on this but I’d argue, How can you restrict transportation for public school students but not Charter School students?

Not to mention that we have already been told that Centralville doesn’t have enough classroom space for all its elementary and middle school students even changing the McAuliffe to a K-8 school and that we would need to open the current Freshman Academy as a middle school to bus those kids to. Being from Centralville I’d strongly object to my student having to be bused over others. When you add the fact that many of those students would be from poorer or minority families and I see another lawsuit if that is forced on them.

You would think a pair of City Councilor’s who have served for so many years including serving as Mayor of the City of Lowell would have some understanding of the correct process to communicate concerns to the the School Committee and how a City Councilor is supposed to do that.

Rita Mercier joins Rodney Elliott as the latest Councilor to want to dictate to the School Committee via the Manager on issues which are CLEARLY the SCHOOL COMMITTEES and fall under their duties and responsibilities.

Both should know School related motions get made to the Mayor to bring to the School Committee.

Why lately they “forget” what is and isn’t a School Committee issue and instead address School related issues to the Manager and Law dept. instead of the Mayor and School Committee is hard to justify.

Showing in my view a lack of respect to both the School Committee members and the duties and responsibilities the voters of Lowell elected them to perform.

I expect more from such seasoned Councilor’s. Especially from Councilor’s who in a dispute with Mayor Patrick Murphy stated in the Lowell Sun:

The reason I put this motion back on is because I thought it was an automatic given that when a councilor made a motion that pertained to the School Committee, they referred it to the mayor who brought it forward (to the School Committee) in the form of a motion,” Mercier said.

Councilor Rodney Elliott, who has had his own clashes with Murphy, said Tuesday that past practice has been for the mayor to bring approved council motions relating to the School Department forward to the School Committee.

Now I’m beginning to understand the Councilor’s actions on the High School issue. They don’t really understand or remember the law or they think based on the non actions of the current school committee they can have them sit back and do nothing but capitulate to the Councilor’s wishes as Gignac and Decouteaux have done. Sadly many candidates appear to be following that same pattern instead of defending the role and responsibilities of the office they are seeking.

Since many councilor’s choose to ignore Mass State Law Chapter 43 sections 33 and 34 regarding School Committee’s maybe they should read MA State Law Chapt 43, Section 97 which deals with a City Councilor’s duties and responsibilities under plan E and clearly states “except as such powers are reserved by this chapter to the school committee and to the qualified voters of the city.” and ask their lawyer what those powers mentioned are.

What’s the harm in asking? I’m just following up on a concern expressed by a constituent are reasons you will hear on why they ask instead of directing citizens to the proper source and it gives the councilor’s the opportunity to do a little political grandstanding.

The questions should be directed to the Mayor to relay to the school committee not the Manager, the harm is disrespecting the office of the School Committee. If there is no harm in asking questions, permit me to remind you of some facts and then suggest some questions that the Councilor’s should be asking.

Remember the last time we had a former State Rep. turned Manager who used reserves to fund the Operational budget? Which Councilor’s were in office when that occurred?

As a result, problems began surfacing in FY2006. During the tax rate setting process, it was discovered that Lowell made an accounting error, double counting almost $2 million in school building authority funds. To balance the budget, Lowell opted not to make any budget cuts. Instead, the city requested an update of its free cash and used its available reserves to fund operating expenses.

Consequently, because of these accounting and budget issues, the Director of Accounts informed Lowell officials on January 3, 2006 that a completed FY2006 audit must be submitted and reviewed prior to setting the FY2007 tax rate and before certifying free cash as of July 1, 2006. A few months later, Moody’s Investors Service’s downgraded Lowell’s bond rating from A2 to A3, citing the use of one-time reserves for operating purposes and the city’s deteriorating financial position.

Remember what was stated in the 2015 City Budget presentation by City Manager Murphy’s Financial Guru Bob Healy – The City Council’s policy to hold taxes to minimal, if any, increases in Fiscal Years 2012-2014, while maintaining service levels despite increasing operating expenses, created a Fiscal Year 2015 budget gap that needed to be bridged. 2019 is shaping up to mirror that.

If we are already aware that the current budget is short $2,250,000 and that the school department budget is expected to need $3,000,000 due to contract increases and that according to the CFO For each percent raised in taxes, revenue for the City budget would increase by approximately $1.24 million that means Lowell is looking at a 4% tax increase just to fund the operational cost of the city and school department.

We know that the present school budget has a $250,000 deficit that the Manager claimed he could not fund and cannot fund at this time (yet no city councilor is concerned?) Remember the City had to use $2,000,000 from its cash reserves to fund the 2018 Operational Fiscal Budget with the promise to pay it back from “Free Cash”.

Based on the Auditor’s Report in the last City Council Packet, Lowell will have $2,223,107.99 in Free Cash! Which is slightly short of the $2,250,000 he has promised.

If we have to deduct the encumbrances then we have “Free Cash” in the amount of $1,259,749.90 which is closer to what we have had the past few years under Manager Murphy.

So why aren’t either Councilor’s Mercier or Elliott asking the Manager these questions?

If Lowell will have only $1,259,749.90 in “Free Cash” how do we repay the $2,000,000 to reserves and the additional $250,000 owed to the School Dept?

Why do we have a $990,250.00 shortfall borrowed from reserves? You seemed confident that the $2.2 million wouldn’t be a problem?

If you look at the funding for the City of Lowell School Dept. and the 2018 City Budget you see that the City of Lowell expects to collect in property taxes $141,045,987. You will also see that only approx. 12.875% of that or $18,005,691 was budgeted as a cash contribution to the School Dept.

Of that, the School dept. is forced by the City to pay for Transportation which is NOT included in NET School spending, by law required to be paid by the City and this year is budgeted for $9,043,069 which leaves $9,220,512 or slightly more than 6.5% of local tax dollars being spent on Lowell Schools in direct cash contributions.

Will Councilor Mercier or Elliott make the following motion?

1) To recommend that transportation cost be clearly broken out creating a stand alone line item under Education in the City Budget. Required the city to fund the current $18,000,000 cash contribution in full while separating transportation cost which doesn’t count towards Net School spending. Thus clarifying the actual amount of cash contribution the School Dept receives from the city from property taxes.

If they both continue to support Cawley and large tax increases aren’t a concern, why not make the following motion?

Vote to fully renovate, reopen and fully staff the Oakland Fire Station across from Shedd Park to properly protect the existing neighborhood schools and possible future High School by shortening the response time and travel distance?

If that causes fiscal concern how about a simple motion like

Request the Manager to make required repairs and upgrades to all existing fire stations and keep every company opened and fully staffed for public safety.

If the two Councilor’s are concerned more with educational issues instead of issues related to the operation of the City Services PLEASE make the following motion:

Vote to Purchase the Lowell Elks Club without selling the Laura Lee School. Use the Laura Lee for a he School Dept Central Administration and use the money the School Dept pays in rent for student services.

They are advocates of Community Policing and fighting the opioid crisis so why not make this motion?

Vote to have the City fund Police Resource Officers at EVERY Lowell Public School to strengthen and improve Community policing and provide the foundation for good community outreach and establishing communication and positive relationships with the students of the city.

How about just letting School Committee members deal with School related issues and City Councilor’s pay attention to city related issues,especially the fiscal state of the city?

1 thought on “Sunday Notes- Defending the role of a School Committee Member – What’s the harm in asking?

  1. “…uninformed talk show host”?

    And who would that be?

    But, the more important question is, are you advocating for a tax increase in the area of 4%?  Sounded that way.

    But, at the end of the day it is about school performance.  If elected, will you push to evaluate the status of students who were in the Lowell School System in eighth grade or beyond when they are 24 years old?  Are they working, in higher education as a student, married with children, in the military, in jail, on the street, deceased?  That is the test of our success.

    Regards  —  Cliff

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