The Lowell School Committee will meet tonight to discuss, among other things, what to do with new $4.8 federal money earmarked for the education of Lowell’s children (Obama’s Education Jobs Funds). The meeting will be televised live at 7 p.m. on cable channel 10 (also available on streaming video through LTC). Today’s Sun has an article highlighting the board’s finance subcommittee meeting on the issue where school administrators recommended saving the $4.8 million because the district will face a $9.5 million hole next spring when it plans its budget for the school year ending in 2012. That prediction is based on fixed cost increases (health insurance, step and lane changes) as well as the loss of one-time funds used to balance the current budget (stimulus money primarily, but also savings due to a lease reduction and contract settlement). The predicted $9.5 million gap in next year’s budget (FY 2012) assumes level funding from the city and state.
Meanwhile, this morning on WCAP Radio, City Manager Bernie Lynch discussed the city’s position regarding its allocation last spring of an additional $1.17 million to the schools. The budget for the current school year (FY 2011) was based on a total cash contribution of $16.6 million from the city that included the additional $1.17 million allocated last spring. According to the city, that $1.17 million was based on pension reform that has not resulted in the expected savings. Lynch’s point on the radio this morning (as I heard it) was that the schools should use the federal money now to let the city off the hook until next spring… (When presumably the city will provide additional funds for education???) This part was never clearly stated.
It’s interesting framing, and you’ve got to hand it to Lynch’s skill as a “spin doctor” that he takes the city’s $266 million operating budget, which included new jobs, raises, and no layoffs on the municipal side, and attributes the additional $1.17 million earmarked for the schools as being under-funded. Last night, CFO Tom Moses told the school board that from the outset, the manager indicated savings from pension reform was how he would fund the education earmark; he also noted that the city has other options to meet the funding requirement, such as raising taxes….
Either way, it’s spinning at the genius level. Despite 17 straight years of under-funding education and only a very recent history of actually making its minimum contribution to its schools (the FY 2011 commitment exceeds state requirements for the first time ever), it appears the city manager would now like to delay that commitment, make it look like taxes are going up because of the schools, or at the very worst, renege on it completely…And on that issue, I’ve got a spin of my own–more on that later.