Covid effects being felt by students and municipalities

Those concerned with public education while acknowledging the need for health and safety are being faced with the harsh realization that public education as we have known it will not be returning anytime soon.

Based on the memo sent out by Commissioner of Education Riley , there is no practical or fiscally viable way for Lowell Public Schools to open per usual in August. Between the Social distancing, mask and hand washing requirements the fiscal cost of busing which would be 1 child every other seat isn’t practical.

IF Lowell had “neighborhood” schools which has been brought up a number of times and dismissed, busing wouldn’t be an issue because a large number of students would be able to walk or ride a bike. However to try to implement this now in a pandemic atmosphere which has already caused chaos for students and would required 47% – 50% to change schools along with not enough classroom space in Centralville would be detrimental to students and the system.

To those who suggest a one week in school and one week remote learning, the question of how families with parents, guardians or caregivers who have to work outside the house would be able to do this? Especially with the strict social distancing rules, ppe, staffing and cleaning requirements being applied to Daycare Centers. Who will pick up those cost?

Now add in the fact that the Federal Gov’t has offered no funding to assist states and our State has not given its communities any fiscal certainties and has strongly pushed for them to adopt 1/12th budgeting for now, the uncertainty of funding and inability for communities to adopt any realistic budgets makes the upcoming 2021 Fiscal year a disaster waiting to happen.

This week both the School Committee and City Council will take votes on a 1/12th budget. The City can do this for one possibly two months at most but will have to have plans for furloughs and layoffs.

The School Dept, is able to do this for July because most of their employees are 10 months (Sept. – June) but cost increase in August when transportation begins.

The School Committee has been very proactive asking for multiple budget scenarios including this week’s which shows what happens if the State funds only what they supplied last year, resulting in the elimination of 14 positions from the budget. The City Manager is proving $14,000,000 + in this week’s budget proposal which covers July and August realistically this will be all that the School Dept. should expect for the year from the city barring federal support.

It shows a continuation of the commitment this City Manager and Council have shown for the School system working with Supt. Boyd and his team. Lowell is finally in a situation where the Manager and School Supt. are working TOGETHER !

There is now concern that do to the dire state revenue loss projections communities should be ready for a REDUCTION in State Aid including Chapt. 70 somewhere between 5% – 20% which would requite layoffs and furloughs on both City and School sides.

This week the School Committee would be wise to NOT spend to much time nitpicking apart the proposed budget before them. Express their concerns but aside from taking the proposal as a report of progress do NOT vote to accept it.

Someone needs to make a motion asking for the Administration to provide budgets based on a 5%-10% or 20% cut, including a 10% pay reduction for the SC, Central Administration and all non-affiliated Union employees , a motion to require the Administration to be proactive and issue contractually obligated layoff notices to ALL UNIONS THIS WEEK based on a worse case scenario and vote only on the 1/12th budget dollar figure proposed by the City Manager and be prepared in August to make many tough decisions based on state and federal responses in the next 6 weeks.