GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 7, 2013

City schools to get $1M hike in budget

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Mayor Carolyn Kirk is budgeted for school spending to jump by $1 million in fiscal 2014 from the city’s school allocation in the current year, but that number will still fall short of the $1.3 million increase the School Committee had requested.

According to a budget summary Kirk will present to the City Council tonight, the mayor has suggested providing the public schools with $36,398,748 for the next fiscal year, though the School Committee had requested $37,706,353, what would be a 6 percent increase from last year’s $35,398,748 in direct school funding.

“We just couldn’t fund it,” Kirk said. “We didn’t cut in schools, we just didn’t give as high of a raise.”

Kirk will hand off her balanced $92.8 million budget proposal, with a 2.3 percent overall increase, to the City Council during its City Hall meeting tonight — at which point the budget becomes the council’s to work with, she said Monday. The council is expected to hand off the budget to the council’s own Committee on Budget and Finance.

In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Conn., some Gloucester residents became increasingly anxious about our school buildings’ security levels. Independent of the schools’ budget, Kirk has budgeted city spending on repairs to school facilities, which the Department of Public Works will perform.

In her summary, Kirk pegs the “overall city spending on education” at $47.6 million, with the inclusion of those costs covered by city departments, notably the Department of Public Works.

The city, in Kirk’s budget, would throw a total of about $11 million toward school-related debt, the facilities repairs, funding the regional vocational school, health insurance for retired teachers, and school choice tuition. Kirk said allotting the money for building repairs “forces the School Committee’s hand” on they will spend that money.

School committee Chairman Jonathan Pope said Monday that, despite the likely reduction in the committee’s budget, the new position for a resource officer will likely stand because the school committee had included $55,000 in their budget for a school resource officer at the high school by reorganizing other positions and shifting things around, not through new funds.

“That wasn’t actually a budget request,” Pope said. “So I think that’s probably going to not be affected by this.”

The School Committee’s Building and Finance Committee will likely discuss reconfiguring their budget to meet the mayor’s proposal at their next meeting Wednesday, then present those thoughts to the full School Committee at its meeting May 22, according to Pope.

“All I can say is we will do two things,” Pope said. “We will try to make the case for more money to the City Council because they do have the capacity to increase our budget. And, in the end we will adjust our budget to whatever it is we end up getting.”

Pope said the School Committee already has some wiggle room in its budget, since the cost of health care came in at $100,000 less than initially budgeted. Also, he said, the committee expects some longtime teachers and other staff may still retire before next year, freeing up money as the school tends to pay veteran teachers at a higher rate.

“We’ll move toward the mayor’s number. We probably won’t get there, but we’ll move toward it,” Pope said.

Kirk did note that, when students choose to attend other public schools — like the more than 260 Gloucester students who did this year — that expense digs into the city’s pocket. The city has budgeted for about 22 more kids to leave the district this year, targeting $1.45 million for outward-bound school choice tuition.

“That hits us hard,” Kirk said.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.