As the school year marches on from winter to spring, Supt. Fred Foresteire, Mayor Carlo DeMaria and the administration are working cooperatively and quickly to try to help solve what looks to be an $8 million shortfall in this year’s school budget.
Contrary to other reports, the process to address the shortfall has been a smooth one between the School Department, the Mayor’s Office, the Administration and the Teacher’s Union.
And it was clear from all this week that no cuts have yet been implemented or set in stone.
“The real message here is this is a cooperative effort between the Mayor, the School Committee and staff at City Hall,” said Supt. Foresteire on Monday. “There’s no fighting going on. We’re trying to work together to solve this.”
The Mayor’s Office indicated the same on Monday, as did other members of the School Department, City Hall staffers and Teacher’s Union President Kim Auger. All said that discussions began in late November and early December, and have proven productive right through this week.
Foresteire said the schools foresee an $8 million deficit, and that is for the current budget year and not for next year’s budget that starts on July 1. Right now, Foresteire said the School Department has $26 million left in the budget, but at the current pace of the cost of programming, that budget will see a shortfall before the end of school.
The $8 million shortfall comes after the City and City Council had already provided an additional $2 million over the City’s required School Department expenditure.
“We know there will be a shortfall if we don’t do something,” said Foresteire. “It’s just a matter of what the City can afford. That’s what all the discussions have been about. No one is talking about cutting anything now. All discussions with the mayor and everyone with the mayor have been about how to address this issue and preserve education and services for our kids. Those are the only discussions we’ve had.”
Said Kevin O’Donnell of the Mayor’s Office, “The Mayor and Superintendent are working to try to minimize any reductions and keep the undisputed positive reputation of the schools intact going forward.”
City Administration official Omar Easy, formerly of the School Department, said other reports about cuts are not fair, and are not accurate in portraying the discussions.
“We are here now because some of the other newspapers have focused on the word ‘cut,’” said Easy. “All of our discussions have been how we can help supplement the School Budget…One publication chose to say the City is cutting $8.5 million from the School Budget. I think we’re trying to make sure these other publications know what the schools are doing and that the mayor is not cutting $8.5 million. Instead, they are trying to work to subsidize the schools. There were buzzwords about ’57 teachers being fired.’ That’s not what’s happening.”
Diving into the issue – which few have done – reveals many things that have contributed to the deficit. However, the major issue is something that no one aside from the state government and federal government has any control over. That problem is how ‘low income’ – now referred to officially as ‘economically disadvantaged’ – students are counted. Economically Disadvantaged students used to be counted locally, but a change three years ago moved that count to the state. To qualify for the designation – which brings more money per student – one has to be on state or federal poverty programs like food stamps or heating assistance. The overarching problem for Everett, Revere and Chelsea, in particular, is that those cities are made up of large groups of immigrants who do not qualify for those benefits despite being very poor and in need of services. However, under the new system, they aren’t counted in that way.
School official Charles Obremski said each student in that situation would bring in about $3,300 to $4,300 for his or her education costs. However, without them being counted correctly, the district lost between $6 million and $8 million this year. It’s a problem the state is well aware of, he said, and one that the state delegation has fought to change. However, to date, it has been without success.
“We thought it would get changed this fiscal year and going forward, but it hasn’t happened,” said Foresteire. “What’s happened is there are more of them than us in terms of districts that aren’t affected by this change. Some of the other legislators aren’t affected by this and they’re not going for the change…No one fights harder than Sal DiDomenico for funding for the schools, but the senator sitting next to him doesn’t face the same issue and isn’t listening to him.”
City CFO Eric Demas said the City has to start planning for such deficits now, as it will become a recurring problem until the state moves to fix it.
“The key is this isn’t a one-time issue,” he said. “Until the state fixes the error, and it passes the legislature, this problem here will continue and we’ll be here again next year…This is a problem that has hurt our City and others like us. Until they fix it, this will continue, and we need to plan for that.”
But it doesn’t stop there.
Director of Special Education Michael Baldassarre said the numbers of students coming into the district – especially those with high needs and special education needs – is surging. That only makes the problem more difficult.
Since Oct. 1, 2016, he said 183 new special education students have moved into the district. A total of 124 students have moved into the district since this past Oct. 1, 2017. All of it equals more students who aren’t counted in the funding formula, but still need very expensive services.
“In 20 years, I’ve never seen an increase that big in one year,” he said..
Other things that have contributed to the shortfall, the School Department said, are:
- Renovating the old High School at a cost of $1 million.
- The loss of transportation funding for students living in foster homes outside of Everett.
- Losing $1.3 million to charter school student tuition.
- $350,000 in lost teacher support grants.
The overarching theme, however, of all the comments from all of those working on the problem was how to preserve education, social services, activities and athletics for the kids. No comments were made from anyone involved without mentioning the well-being of the children of Everett.
“Some people have talked about cuts and some have talked about user fees and things like that,” said Foresteire. “You talk about all the sports we have and all the clubs we have. Everyone talks about football, but we have well over 100 clubs. If we start charging them, they won’t be in the school at those clubs. They will be on the streets. Everett High is open every night until 11 p.m. Some kids even eat dinner there in our dinner program. If you take away those activities, where will our students go? The key is to keep the youth engaged, which means getting them in sports or clubs so they can fully become part of our community…I will say that 999 out of 1,000 of our students are perfect ladies and gentlemen when they walk down the street. We can’t have that to change.”
The Mayor’s Office and School Department said they hope to have some type of aid package for the schools ready very soon. It will be presented to the City Council for review and possible ratification. Many said they expected that discussion to happen before the end of February.