The fact that the excessive enrollment projections of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School will mean additional money for the city of Gloucester’s general fund, as reported in Saturday’s Times, is certain to spark debate over where that budgeted state money will go.
And it’s understandable that school advocates would push to steer that money into Gloucester schools – with Mayor Carolyn Kirk saying she’d be willing to look that way as well. The money – aimed initially at supporting a pre-enrollment figure of 212 charter students, then likely a state-budgeted 180 students in quarterly payments made throughout the fiscal year — is directed toward education. And the student shortfall at GCAS in the early days of the school year spotlights the fact that more students than expected have returned to the city school system.
Yet, the estimated $100,000 from last year’s charter overkill will go into the city’s free cash account for this year, with perhaps $250,000 or more from this year’s net shortfall headed the same way. And the city’s schools already received a budget increase for the current fiscal year — without a documented need for these added dollars.
Quite frankly, the city has other needs that have been shortchanged — most notably for the regular opening of at least the Bay View fire station, which remains closed due to staffing shortages. And while new Fire Chief Eric Smith should be working on department restructuring plans to ease that personnel crunch, the reality is that won’t change within the next several weeks, or even months.
The real answer to all of this, as we noted last month, will be for charter officials to put up a more realistic enrollment figure for budgeting; their enrollment shortfall means the school is already facing in-year staffing cuts, just as it’s had to make the first two years as well. But Department of Education spokesman J.C. Considine noted that, with the money still pegged for Gloucester, “the city could appropriate (it) back to the school district, but would not be obliged to do so.”
In this case, the city must weigh its priorities. And fire safety must be at the top of that list.