In the continuing City Hall battle over supposed additional School Funds from the state, Sen. Sal DiDomenico
addressed the School Committee on Monday evening, Oct 15, regarding the $2.5 million he secured in the state’s Supplemental Budget for the School Department – money that has apparently hit a roadblock at City Hall.
The money was identified to go to Chapter 70 Schools aid with the purpose of alleviating the Everett School Department’s budget crisis, in particular that which came about due to the changes in definition of low-income students.
DiDomenico said he was worried that he may not be able to advocate for the schools any longer if his colleagues hear that City Hall isn’t forwarding school money to the schools.
“We have limited our effectiveness of the legislators at the State House if you do not put this money where it belongs in Chapter 70 to our schools,” he said. “So I am here tonight to just lend my two cents, to tell you that this money was secured for our schools. It was under the impression of all of us at the State House that this money was coming back to the city to be used for the schools. Going forward, if it is not, it will make my job much more difficult.”
There has been some ambiguity on whether the City will designate this additional funding to the schools or disperse it for other intentions. Last week, Mayor Carlo DeMaria and his administration said they did not want to release the money to the schools – noting they have already given many millions in extra aid to the schools this year. Instead, the mayor has said he would like to use that to potentially improve the City’s bond rating and help lower borrowing costs if new municipal or school buildings need to be constructed.
The matter at City Hall has been forwarded to the School Finance Review Committee for consideration.
Mayor DeMaria wasn’t immediately available for comment on the record about the matter.
On Elm Street, though, the School Department and DiDomenico worried that he may never get any more extra funding for Everett if the money keeps getting derailed at City Hall.
DiDomenio was concerned that the effectiveness to do his job for the betterment of the community as a whole would be hindered.
“Finally someone listened, finally we got some additional funding, and finally the money is coming to our schools,” he said. “If it does not go to the schools, they’re going to say I’m crying wolf.”
In the last few years, the state funding formula was adjusted, negatively impacting Everett and similar communities in a severe way.
Sen. DiDomenico explained while they are looking for a more permanent solution in the State House, the $2.5 million secured was a bipartisan decision to help alleviate some of the financial stress in the Everett School Department and about 12 others in the same boat.
The money given to Everett was provided with the understanding it would be allotted to the schools specifically, said DiDomenico.
DiDomenico stressed that if the money is not designated to the schools, it will make his job more challenging to secure funding for the community as a whole going forward. Financial decisions such as this are determined by a combination of the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Governor.
Assistant Superintendent Kevin Shaw proceeded to explain how the money would be used, primarily to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes throughout schools across Everett.
School Committeeman Marcony Almeida-Barros added that the money is “crucial” in efforts to reduce class sizes. While the enrollment numbers have not changed, the number of employed teachers has decreased significantly, resulting in the stress of large classes.
He further added that it has been determined by at least one study that the Everett School Department is actually underfunded by $19 million per year.
Senator DiDomenico clarified that this number has not been determined by the School Department, or the City of Everett, but rather outside experts who studied the demographics.
He offered additional comments on how remarkable the Everett School Department operates in terms of programs and youth opportunities despite some of the challenges it faces.
Supt. Fred Foresteire said he feels that the School Department is the rightful recipient of the funding.
“It was appropriated for the schools,” he said. “We are not asking for a supplemental appropriation. We’ll live with what we’ve got and we have been. But this money is found money above what anyone thought of, and we’re just asking for our fair share of that money.”
Afterward, Foresteire said that keeping the money in the Finance Committee at City Hall delays everything for the schools and puts them in limbo.
“If they’d confirm to us that they were going to give us the money, we could go out right now and start hiring teachers,” he said. “We know who we want, but we don’t know what they’re going to do. Putting it in there only delays things because they can’t even have a vote until Nov. 12 and then you have Thanksgiving.”
According to Senator Sal DiDomenico, the future of additional funding for Everett is at stake should this $2.5 million not be allotted to the School Department now.
Seth Daniel contributed to this report.