Mayor Carlo DeMaria and the Everett City Council voted to use $5 million of city reserves to help the schools with a projected operating deficit of $9 million.
However, that support did come with some strings attached, including a blue-ribbon task force charged with looking into school finance.
With an additional $1.3 million available to the schools in various revolving funds, the projected deficit in the School Department for this current year has been reduced from approximately $9 million to roughly $2 million.
During his opening statement to the Council, Mayor DeMaria outlined a three-part approach to establishing what the School Department’s true financial need should be going forward. DeMaria announced that his administration has appointed a new Task Force of School Finance, which will be charged with developing recommendations for operational savings and efficiencies in the School Department. He has also called for an outside auditor of the School Department operation and is moving to establish the internal School Finance Review Committee, which was allowed under the City Charter, but was never put into practice.
The new Task Force will include Barry Sloane, co-CEO of Century Bank; Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau; Dr. Dwayne Thomas, professor at Lasell College and Chief Learning Officer and Chief Strategist at Thomas Leadership Solutions; and Dr. Jon Fullerton, executive director of the Center for Educational Policy Research at Harvard University.
Dr. Omar Easy, director of Organizational Assessment for the City of Everett, will serve as staff director to the Task Force.
Separately, the outside audit will review School Department operational practices to help confirm how the budget deficit developed and identify funding options or operational efficiencies that may conserve funding for subsequent budget years.
The final, new initiative is the establishment of the School Finance Review Committee, which will include the mayor, city auditor, superintendent, school business agent, city solicitor, chief procurement officer, four city councilors and three School Committee members.
However, all of these efforts are aimed at one thing, to bring some comfort to those in City government that the amount of funding being requested and spent by the Everett School Department on an annual basis is indeed the appropriate amount of money to operate the schools.
“It is my sincere hope that the work we are announcing tonight will facilitate transparency and cooperation on school budgetary matters as we all advocate for ways to find new funding to continue investing in our students in the years to come,” the mayor said in a statement.
The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 requires that cities and towns provide their School Departments with a bottom line budget, which the Superintendent of Schools and School Committee has the right to spend in any way they feel is necessary to provide for the education of the students in their system. This arrangement has always made City officials uneasy, as they have the right, indeed the obligation, to question every other area of the budget, but they do not have the opportunity to review and investigate the school budgets in the same way.