The new Task Force on School Finance met on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 15, in City Hall to organize, get information and set parameters for what they will be looking at during their review.
One thing was clear off the bat – they won’t just be looking at how the School Department spends it’s money, but also how the City finances operations, too.
“We’re not just looking at the schools; we’re looking at the City as a whole to see how we might affect the City’s financial issues and problems and then report back,” said Sam Tyler of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. “The bottom line is we’re able to give an outside review of what is going on in Everett. Other communities have gone through something similar…It’s not just like we pulled ourselves out of a hat. It’s going diligently through the information. Everett residents deserve an objective review…Obviously, Everett has a fiscal problem it needs to address and we have agreed to take an outside review of the situation and make recommendations. Again, we’re going to be looking at the School Department, but also we’ll be looking at the City’s finances so we can understand the entire issue.”
Dr. Dwayne Thomas said that Everett residents can be assured of an independent and objective review of the situation, with fair recommendations that have worked in other places – such as Somerville, where many of the Task Force members served on a similar panel for Mayor Joe Curtatone in 2007-2008.
“The charge from the mayor is to be objective and have an objective review of what got the City and the School Department into these problems…We will look at it all and make recommendations on how to move forward and not have these problems recur.
“One thing to re-affirm is that we understand the state is not funding school at the rate that it should be,” he continued. “This is not an attack on the schools or the School Department. It’s looking at how the School Department works along with everything else in the world that’s going on.”
Added Tyler, “It will be important to be objective and fact based.”
Dr. Omar Easy of the City of Everett is the liaison to the Task Force and coordinated last week’s first meeting. He specified that all Task Force members are doing this on their own time as volunteers. He stressed that the City is appreciative of that, and he said they have begun setting additional meeting dates.
Jon Fullerton, executive director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, said he has volunteers so that there aren’t the financial strains and uncertainties underlying the school system.
“For me to have seen that there are potential cuts in the middle of the year and layoffs ongoing over and over isn’t great for the teachers, the kids and the schools,” he said. “For me, it’s working to make sure that isn’t an issue anymore. That’s important.”
The Task Force said it’s too early to understand what recommendations might be in order in Everett, but one recommendation made in Somerville was to consider moving the City’s insurance from a self-funded model to the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC).
“One suggestion we made in Somerville was for the City to join the GIC there,” Tyler said. “Mayor Curtatone was able to convince them to do that. I guarantee that was significant savings for the City (of Somerville).”
One other common suggestion is to develop partnerships with alumni, businesses, corporations and personal benefactors – especially when it comes to the School Department.
“That’s not uncommon to have these partnerships in place,” said Tyler.
One member of the Task Force, Barry Sloane of Century Bank, was not in attendance, but is expected at the next meeting.
For now, the Task Force is occupying itself with brushing up on hundreds of pages of financial information from the City and the Schools.
“We have a lot of reading to do now,” said Fullerton.