Last night the Lowell School Committee passed a budget for the 2018/2019 School year. No newspaper coverage, no radio talk just quietly laid off long time workers, closed library’s to students and carried over a half million dollar deficit. The majority of members voted to allow 5th graders to be moved out of the Sullivan School into the Reilly and Moody schools, despite the fact they end up going to school 2.5 hours a week less than their peers at other city schools.
That’s sadly better than the last School Committee who never had the chance to approve a budget last year and instead the Supt. put it in for them and a majority of the carryovers didn’t seem to care when they found out 7 months later that occurred.
The City increased their contribution by $180,000 – they took the Water and Sewage expense assigned to the School Dept. and instead moved it to their maintenance of effort (chargebacks) responsibility and because so many of our talented staff have had enough and are retiring the Supt. was able to find another $295,000
We were able to save the District Wide Social worker, a foreign language teacher, 2 LHS schedulers and 2 LHS Dept. Chairs but lost other teachers, para’s , 2 clerks and a guidance counselor at LHS.
In my own opinion the worst thing we lost was the Libraries at our elementary and middle schools and the Library Aides who are mostly 15+ years of dedicated service professionals and among our lowest paid and under appreciated staff.
I believe Library Aides are very important to a students understanding of not only reading but also of learning how to research material, how a library is used and how it is a great place to get items printed, use a computer and learn solid study habits. That is taught and reinforced in our middle schools. It may be to late if the students first exposure to a library is during their High School years.
If you go to LHS or the City Library you see how many of our older students use these locations. If like me you have gone on tours of Colleges for yourself or with your child , you know they always take you to their Library to show it off because so many students spend a great deal of time there.
I proposed we cut the Adult Ed program and hope that the State gives us more money so we could reinstate it later but that failed 5-2 with only Jackie Doherty supporting our responsibility under the law to serve grades K-12.
In fact the Supt. stated the City Manager threatened to withdraw the $486,000 from the cash contribution if we cut that program. My colleagues were not going to cut it anyway but I at least tried. With all of the social service agencies and UMass Lowell and Middlesex College in this city you would think the need for kids having access to real libraries over plastic bins filled with paperback books would be something a school committee member would favor and let those groups take care of the adults but not here and not now.
The State Senate and House may still be able to find some more funds for us but even then, times are changing and we have a School Supt. who has been trying to eliminate libraries and library aides for the past 2 years. We may not be able to keep all aides but we could possibly keep 6-7 and get them to agree to cover multiple schools if we get more money. I still have a small amount of hope but that is with the understanding that we have a $500,000 deficit in the school budget.
Can we do better? Sure but when the financial information and job descriptions our administration supplies are half complete and missing information or supplying inaccurate information or changing the narrative from last year to fit this year it’s confusing and goes over the head of the average member and nothing gets asked or addressed.
Transportation has increased drastically this year and this Administration contributed to the school busing contract having to be re-bid after it was awarded. Their incompetence resulted in a contract that came in $134,000 HIGHER! and that is not counting the fiasco that is the Special Needs transportation which is still being addressed.
Yet that School Committee did and said nothing.
Last year the Transportation/Family Resource Center position was broken from 1 job paying $96,000 to 2 jobs and the Committee was told that by “finding $50.000 after they approved the budget” (which turns out was a half truth – they approved an unbalanced under funded over spent budget) that these new positions would be “budget neutral”..despite the fact that when you add 1 additional body you add $10,000 in benefits. Before we voted to include the Transportation position into the Asst. Business Manager position those 2 items combined were budgeted for Approx. $171,000..
In addition in a monthly June 2017 financial report to the School Committee, the Supt. Showed a health care balance of as of June 13th of $73,742 but in the Final Fiscal 17 budget they showed a negative balance of -$ 661,795.68 and yet only Connie Martin asked about it and it was quickly forgotten about.
My biggest frustration is I agree with about 80% of things the Superintendent wants to do. I’m happy to debate the other 20% but the attitude and arrogance and the inconsistencies and surprises are what upset me the most. Don’t change the narrative, not tell me information or hand me a budget in December that wasn’t the one you submitted to the City last June and NOT expect me to be furious and worried about all the financial numbers you supply. You have members who don’t understand budgets but to not notice the double-talk and change in narrative is frustrating. Your not elected to be a rubber stamp.
The Committee and the Superintendent are supposed to have a working relationship. Every member needs to find a way to work with the Superintendent and in my opinion the Superintendent must find a way to work with every member EQUALLY! Especially when it comes to communication of information on a wide range of FINANCIAL things.
It takes 2 to communicate so it will be back to the beginning for me in trying again to establish a working relationship with this Superintendent.
I’ve had far to many inconsistencies and surprises so far to think things will improve but I will make 1 last attempt and if things don’t improve, then the next year and a half will be hell on both of us.