The City Council's seven-week review of the fiscal 2013 budget wraps up on Tuesday night.
So much of what we have worked for over these past years is paying off now. For example, productive employee health insurance negotiations have kept this line item to a 0 percent increase, whereas it has seen double-digit increases in many years. And, conservative fiscal management has produced surpluses which are providing the financial flexibility we need to better fund education in the city.
Every budget represents choices among competing priorities, and no department gets everything they want in terms of staffing and resources. Spending on education has taken the priority in this budget.
Funding for the Gloucester Public Schools, the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, and our school facilities have seen the greatest increases. We have had to get creative in order to cover these expenses and maintain other services throughout the city.
Based on estimates from the state, the total cost of the charter school is $2.2 million for fiscal 2013.
The state will reimburse us about $900,000 of that amount this year, but the city of Gloucester is paying the difference which amounts to $1.3 million. Each year, we absorb a portion of the charter school expense in what have been roughly $600,000 increments. We will do this until the entire cost of the school is absorbed and the state funding dries up as it will per state law.
The $600,000 increment is paid for right off the bat from our new property tax revenue collected under Proposition 21/2. We will only have to absorb the increase in charter school expenses for another two years. After that, the full cost of the school is accounted for in the base budget. Because we see the end of those huge increases in sight, we are pulling one-time money into the budget to support the Gloucester Public Schools.
This is a two-year budget strategy and will need to be put into place next year as well. However, after the city has absorbed the entire charter school expense by fiscal 2015, those new revenues that are now being diverted to the charter school can be redirected back to the school budget thereby avoiding the "cliff" that typically results from utilizing one-time funding sources.
Also, the school district continues to reel from the loss of the federal ARRA funding which has been compounded by a reduction in Title I funding heading into fiscal 13.
The total loss of the ARRA funding was $1.6 million over the past two budget years. Because the city of Gloucester could not replace the federal funding when it expired (the Kirk administration cannot bail out the Obama administration, I like to say), last year the School Department was forced to eliminate 41 positions.
In many instances, the School Committee chose to roll grant funded positions into its regular budget and make other cuts instead because of the importance of those positions on improving student achievement.
As we continue this three-year transition away from stimulus funding, and absorb the expense of the charter school, we placed a high priority on education spending in this budget in order to continue the focus on improving student achievement in the district.
City expenditures on education exceed almost an additional $10 million beyond the expenses carried in the School Department budget and those represented by the charter school. These expenses include retired teachers' health insurance; tuition paid to other schools under school choice; regional vocational school; school facilities; and, school-related debt.
Spending on education comprises more than 50 percent of all total available revenues.
The city of Gloucester is without a doubt fulfilling its obligation to education spending in the community.
Carolyn Kirk is mayor of the city of Gloucester.