Supt. Tahiliani, Finance Team Announce Forward-Looking School Budget Plan

Supt. Priya Tahiliani and her finance team announced a School Budget on Monday night to the School Committee that was unlike any that Everett Public Schools (EPS) has seen – one that looked toward long-term investments in a proposed three-year plan.

This year’s School Budget plan has a lot of elements at play – including federal CARES Act funding for schools, the first year of Student Opportunity Act (SOA) funding, and now a calculated long-term plan to return more money to students and school building leaders.

The overall School Budget ask is $129.395 million – but the ask is coming in a way never seen before in the School Department. Supt. Tahiliani said the Budget is a break from the past ways of formulating it, planning it and presenting it. In creating the Budget, all of the principals, school leaders, directors and teachers have been part of the crafting of it – so there are no presentations or “asks” from each school. Instead, that has all been rolled into the Budget presentation, which is more of a blueprint for overall strategy than a line-by-line negotiation for spending on things such as paper towels or lab equipment.

“It really is meant to reflect the scope of investment in our students and schools,” said Tahiliani.

At Monday night’s special School Committee meeting, Supt. Tahiliani and School CFO Anu Jayanth introduced a budget for the coming Fiscal Year 2022 that looks to invest federal COVID funds into social-emotional programs and academic recovery programs that will likely hit Everett students with gusto when they return to a traditional in-person learning environment. It is estimated that EPS could receive around $5 to $10 million in COVID federal funds (Elementary and Secondary Education Emergency Resources funding), and much of that short-term funding will be directed to helping students recover in many different ways from the experiences of COVID.

However, beyond that, the Administrative team has called for a $35 million, three-year plan to invest in the long-term educational needs for all students in the district.

The three-year plan looks to make permanent some of the programming that will be added using federal COVID money, things like tutoring, enrichment programs and mentoring.

“In this budget we are asking for a commitment for a $35 million investment to students over three years,” she said. “These are for the supports and stabilization they need when they come to school…The pandemic also shined a light on issues that have long been with us and aren’t going away…With the federal money, when it expires, we could fall off a cliff with our programming if not thoughtful. While COVID-19 money is going to be used for one time investments – like learning loss recovery, technology, PPE and testing. When that money expires, we want to expand these investments for the long-term and that’s where our three-year plan comes in.”

In the first year of the plan – the coming Fiscal Year 2022 – the plan would call for diverting staff directly to schools, providing social-emotional COVID-19 supports, providing academic recovery supports/staff, and building up school libraries with an emphasis on bi-lingual books reflective of the student population.

In the following year, FY 2023, the investments would focus on expanding the CTE offerings, staffing libraries, expanding electives for middle school, and building up supplemental services such as summer programs. In the third year of the plan, the focus would be to add supplemental services for credit recovery, build out a robust after-school program and ensure strong elective offerings in every school.

Investments in the near-term, for the coming year’s budget would be in four categories:  rich instruction, safe environment, supplemental services and tailored supports for families.

For rich instruction, that includes $3.75 million dedicated to starting to build up libraries, hiring Academic Response Advisors, implementing tutoring/mentoring, new ESL teaching positions, a K-8 STEM and Literacy manager and starting a new speaker series.

In health and safety, they have proposed $1.48 million for Cataldo EMTs to do pool testing, COVID response safety liaison positions, and a new Social Emotional Team. The Integrated Supports features $3 million for summer programs, a new City Year Fellows program, a new Supplemental Services Manager, and a new Re-Engagement Manager. The Positive Relationship category – or Tailored Supports – includes $355,658 for Learning Access for families, the Tech Goes Home program, and a Family Engagement Manager.

Jayanth said some of that will lay a foundation using temporary COVID dollars for the more long-term three-year investment plan.

“This is a fundamental and strategic departure from the historic way of doing the School Budget,” said Jayanth.

Mayor Carlo DeMaria gave positive reviews of the new approach, and said he looks forward to talking more about the details of the plan.

“I love it,” he said. “We’re all feeling it as parents. I especially like the three-year plan and not to have to take money mid-year and have to take money from Free Cash…It’s good to have a complete budget.”

School Committee Chair Frank Parker said he was glad to see a new approach to the School Budget in what would be Supt. Tahiliani’s first real budget effort – given that last year she had only been in office a few months and COVID-19 had ravaged all normal budget cycles.

“We’re going to budget every school,” he said. “You’ll see actually what the budget is for in every school – how much the Webster School has and what the Devens School has allocated. We’ve not had that granularity in the past and we’ll see that now going forward.”

School Committeewoman Dana Murray said she liked the idea as well.

“As a taxpayer and a parent with kids in the system, I support the idea that they took the time to plan ahead and no go year to year…I’m grateful to be part of a City and school system that is taking the long view and not trying to patch things up short-term.”

School Committeewoman Samantha Lambert also applauded the new approach, but was especially happy to see that there was an effort to end opportunity gaps in the schools. As a long-time critic of different opportunities – such as field trips – in different schools, she said the Budget moved to end those inequities between schools with an active Parent Teacher Organization and those without such a structure.

“Just making the field trips equitable across schools and not putting it on PTOs – that’s huge,” she said.

The presentation on Monday was a macro view of the School Budget and the first venture into the waters of Budget season. It will now be presented to the City Administration to negotiate the spending and agree upon a final number. Then it will come back to the School Committee for a deeper dive into the numbers and the programming investments, most of that being done in Lambert’s Finance and Negotiations Committee. If approved by the School Committee, it would then go to the City Council for discussion and deliberation within their overall City Budget process in May or June.

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