Thursday night’s School Finance Review Committee had the makings of a showdown, but ended up being closer to a lovefest.
Going into the meeting, many believed the discussion over $2.5 million in supplemental money would be one of the hottest topics of the year. It had already stoked quite a bit of consternation between the School Department, the Mayor’s Office and the City Council, but by the end of the meeting, the committee unanimously recommended that the City Council approve the funding for use by the School Department.
The funds were part of Chapter 70 monies from the State Legislature through what is known as the ‘Hold Harmless’ fund. That fund goes to several Gateway Cities like Everett who have suffered financially from a change in the way low-income students are counted. While the students are low income, they are not counted as so under the new formula, and that results in less state funding coming into the district. Other cities with the same problem include Chelsea and Revere.
Since the money was part of the Chapter 70 funding, school officials were under the assumption it would quickly be approved by City officials to help bring as many as two dozen school personnel back on the books and help ease overcrowding at city’s schools.
But there was a roadblock when Mayor Carlo DeMaria and his administration indicated there was a deal put in place earlier this year during budget discussions that called for them to keep the extra money. That deal had the City putting up an extra $6.5 million for the schools, and in return, any new money that came in during the school year, including Medicaid payments and any additional state funds, would go to the City side of the ledger.
After opening remarks by the mayor Thursday night, it was still unclear how the issue would play out.
“My feeling was that the $6.5 million was the number that would get the schools through the next fiscal year,” said DeMaria. “We talked it out and came to the understanding that we would both agree to disagree, respectfully … Fast forward to when we were told that we were getting an additional $2.5 million in Chapter 70 funds.
“The Senator (Sal DiDomenico) worked hard with the Ways and Means Committee, and we are thankful for that, but my feeling was (that the money) was coming to the City,” he continued.
Supt. Fred Foresteire and administrators Charles Obremski and Kevin Shaw offered a presentation on the budget’s impact on Everett taxpayers and outlined how the additional $2.5 million would be used by the schools.
Shaw said the primary goal of the schools is to hire, as soon as possible, up to two dozen teachers and staff to lower class sizes across the district.
“We’ve been meeting with principals since the beginning of the school year to see where the critical needs are for the school department,” said Shaw. “The $2.5 million will all be used in personnel.”
The personnel on the table breaks down to 16 general education teachers, five special education teachers, two specialists, one English Language Learner teacher, and 19 substitute teachers to help cover maternity leaves and other needs, according to Shaw.
Given that it is already the beginning of November, city CFO Eric Demas asked if the schools would be able to hire the large number of staff needed.
Shaw noted that the district already has received more than 50 resumes, and could also presumably draw from personnel who were laid off before the beginning of the school year.
“The pool of applicants is out there,” he said.
Foresteire noted that the total for all the positions on the list for the School Department is closer to $2.8 million than $2.5 million.
“Once we get the process rolling, we will keep it to $2.5 million,” the superintendent said.
The Finance Review Committee also heard from DiDomenico, who said that there should be a brighter outlook for Gateway Cities in future state budgets.
Toward the end of the meeting City Councilor and committee member John Leo McKinnon tried to get a feel for how the mayor wanted to proceed.
“I want to know your position, you’re the ultimate decision maker here,” McKinnon said.
DeMaria noted that he was only one vote on the School Finance Review Committee, but that he would listen to the needs outlined by Shaw.
“I would vote in favor of giving the $2.5 million to the schools,” said the mayor. DeMaria said he is also in favor of using some of the City’s available free cash to help give some tax relief to city residents.
The committee unanimously approved recommending the use of the Chapter 70 funds by the schools. The City Council will now take the final vote on the issue at its Nov. 13 meeting.
DeMaria and Foresteire were seen exchanging a hug and a few words shortly before the vote.
“Since you have been mayor, we’ve had a good relationship and worked to get things done,” said the superintendent. “I want to see the relationship continue on that level. We don’t need the comments and the things that show up in the newspaper. If you have questions, ask us.”
The mayor noted that he has always worked to support the schools, and noted that Everett is perched for substantial growth in the coming years.
“When we do well, you do well,” Foresteire told the mayor. “Come along for the ride.”