, Gloucester, MA


May 8, 2013

School-choice outflow in budget shows need for changes

In her summary that outlines aspects of her fiscal 2014 budget proposal, Mayor Carolyn Kirk notes that she is recommending that the City Council allocate an additional $1 million, or roughly 3 percent, for the city school system.

And while some may see that as a high-end increase, the fact is, it is certainly on a par with the rate of inflation — as is the overall city budget hike of 2.3 percent — and it is significantly below the roughly 6 percent, or $2.3 million increase – the School Committee had sought over the current year.

But the need to hold the line on costs especially shows up in the education-related spending that is covered under the City Hall side of the budget, from a projected $300,000 jump in the Department of Public Works’ costs for handling school facilities, to a jump in retired teachers’ health-insurance costs, and finally to the real eye-opener; outside tuition.

Those city budget items show that costs of sending students to the newly merged North Shore Regional Vocational School District jumping by $204,291 to a total of $1.17 million — is in large part due to the city’s share of the cost of the new vo-tech school, which is still being built in Middleton and is targeted for opening in 2014.

And it shows that, despite the gains touted at O’Maley Middle School and the closing of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, the district expects to spend $1.45 million on school-choice tuitions sending students to other school districts — an increase alone of more than $111,000, or roughly 22 additional students for the coming school year. In all, those numbers suggest that Gloucester schools “choice out” more than 260 students, and the fact that the number continues to grow is troubling, to say the least.

As the School Committee looks to trim its own budget in the weeks ahead, it’s important that its members not only look to redirect some of its budgeted dollars to meet the mayor’s and City Council’s needs, but also to outline some means of addressing this outflow of students that both costs the district in firming up its long-term enrollment plans, and now continues to cost the city and its taxpayers.

We’ve often noted that, in mapping any school building plans, city school officials need to deal with the realities of a school district that cannot maintain the status quo. The school choice outflow is, indeed, one of those harsh realities.

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