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City Council Approves $1.7 Million More for School Budget

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

 

The City Council approved a $286.2 million public school budget, finding the $1.7 million that was requested by Worcester Public School Superintendent Melinda Boone.  However, according to the City Manager, the additional funds are likely to be a one-year fix. Funding from the city will primarily come from the police department, and while some councilors voiced concerns that this could put the city in a bad financial position, Mayor Joe Petty assured that no services would be cut from the Worcester Police Department.

The extra funding will go towards hiring more teachers to encourage smaller class sizes and for more school nurses – two issues that were at the forefront of issues facing the city.

A One-Time Fix

City Manager, Michael O’Brien and Boone presented their finalized budget that showed where the additional funding will come from on the city side and school side.

At-Large Councilor Konstantina B. Lukes critiqued Manger O’Brien's amendment to the budget.

“Is this a one-time contribution? Because that’s the bottom line – next year’s budget,” Lukes said. “You know we’re going to have more requests for more money next year. I can’t blame them asking for more money, but I do blame us.”

Lukes raised her concern that there is little flexibility in the budget and that adverse effects could come from moving this funding.

“If something happens that we don’t anticipate… I’m troubled that we had what I thought was a ‘tight budget,’ but we found this money,” she said. Lukes expressed concern about weather issues or other emergencies that may arise in the next year. “I think we will be unprepared to deal with those issues.”

In response, the City Manager said he has never had wiggle room and reluctantly said that next year’s budget would be more difficult to maneuver. Dr. Boone was also questioned by Councilor Russell why the finalized budget was printed in color. Administrative salary was also a key issue.

Despite these questions and some worry over the final allocation, Mayor Petty and Council voiced many high hopes for the future and positive remarks toward the two parties for working toward a final budget.

“This was more than a first step,” said Councilor Rick Ruston. “It was asking a lot.”

Mayor Joe Petty and the City Councilors spoke about the need for this step in funding education as a crucial part of the city’s future and community.

“I have been waiting for years for a real budget,” Lukes said, praising this budget’s transparency.

Where the Money Comes From

Of the $1.7 million, $350,000 came from the city's manager's budget.  $315,000 comes from the WPD.

“This figure comes from a delay that we will see in the start of the police recruit class as was detailed by the chief,” said Manager O’Brien. “He spoke about the professional background checks and physicals required. He doesn’t believe July 1st will be the start date of this force, but October 1st as the realistic date for the start of that class.”

Councilors spoke about concerns that this money may cut services from the police department, but Mayor Petty clarified that would not be an issue: “Let’s be clear that there are no services being cut that will impact the department’s abilities.”

This source of funding, however, will not be available next year, according to the City Manager and will be viewed as a one-time expenditure.

“We identified a vacancy in having them (police recruits) start them as well as benefit costs having them start later. I have made an amendment to the budget recommendation to appropriate that to Worcester Public Schools for ten teachers,” O’Brien said.

Another portion of the city’s funding comes from the City Manager’s contingency, which pays for fuel spikes in gasoline and diesel.

On the school committee’s side, Dr. Boone detailed that $1 million the extra funding came from another way to fund the school’s cost of cleaning up PCBs.

“The chief financial officer for city and chief financial officer of Worcester Public Schools found that money was to be used to address PCBs,” Boone said. “That’s a capital expense, and we can apply loan authorizations to fund those issues. We are recommending that $1 million goes against existing loan authorizations.”

Boone said that the specifics of the funding will be discussed at the next school committee session.

“Our process is a few days behind the city’s, but we have identified recommendations to make to the committee,” she said.

While the committee and those in attendance of the meeting were pleased with the outcome, Boone said that there will still be things cut.

Building rehab projects that will be deferred – pavement projects at high schools – recommend the next stage of funding be available, so the school department will be have to address that issue.

A Step in the Right Direction

Last week, Mayor Petty spoke about disappearing state funding that is affecting the stability of the budget. Other councilors weighed in on the issue, including former mayor and City Councilor Joe O’Brien who served on the School Committee 2002-2008.

“Over the last number of years, the city and schools have faced hard financial times. That’s not unique to Worcester,” he said. During his time on the committee, they closed eight schools and laid off teachers. “Not a very popular thing to do. We were helped with $50 million in stimulus aid and continued support from the state administration. On the city side, we have lost state aid, which has made being on this side difficult.”

Councilors also spoke about the need to invest in education in the city but also the need to not be frivolous with spending.

“From a business standpoint, we’re probably about two years from ‘maxing out.’ We need to be mindful,” said Councilor Tony Economou. “I’m proud to have two children in Worcester schools.” 

 

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