The issue was first brought to light at the joint School Committee/City Council meeting in early December, when it was announced that the Special Education department was already as much as $630,000 over budget due to unplanned expenses. These overruns had blown through the district's contingency budget for the year, and forced the schools to freeze the overall budget.
Since then, other issues such as lower than expected reimbursements from the state, and larger than expected unemployment costs have created what one School Committee member termed a "dire situation."
Today's Salem News reports that the current shortfall, even after freezing all but essential spending, is more than $400,000 and could result in mid-year teacher layoffs:
"We have limited places to go because we've made so many cuts in the past," [Superintendent Marie] Galinski said. "We're looking at a $400,000-plus deficit right now, and it's January."The state aid Galinski refers to is in addition to the more widely-known local aid cuts. State "circuit-breaker" reimbursements, originally intended to offset extraordinary special education costs—many the result of state and federal mandates—were originally supposed to cover 75% of these sometimes huge expenses. But this figure has been continually reduced, this year coming in at only 38%, while SPED service needs continue to rise, and mandates remain in place. Making matters worse, according to Special Education Director Debra O'Connor's presentation in December, the city doesn't see that money until the year after the expenses are incurred:
Galinski said the deficit is the result of unexpected special education costs, rising unemployment costs caused by recent school layoffs, and a reduction in school choice revenue, all combined with a cut in state aid.
Dr. Galinski plans to go before the City Council at its meeting on Tuesday, January 18th to fill them in on the seriousness of the situation.To deal with the shortfall, Galinski said the School Committee's options are to use money from the buildings and grounds budget, lay off staff before the end of the school year, or ask the City Council for more money.
"We're not asking for it right now," Galinski said. "We just want to say to them that we might need to do that, so there's no surprises."
The News story also ads one new wrinkle, saying that officials have had to decline requests to school choice students from outside Beverly (and the funding that comes with them) to attend the high school because the building is already overcrowded. This has resulted in a loss of over $100,000 in revenue:
The third problem area is school choice, the program that allows public school students to attend schools outside of their district, with the host school getting state money for each incoming student. Galinski said school choice revenues are down $115,000 from last year.This fact is sure to get a rise out of high school naysayers like Eliot Margolis who often stated that the new school, which he said was smaller than the old one, would be too small.
Beverly has had to refuse students who want to attend its schools, especially the high school, due to lack of space, Galinski said. She said there are 1,277 students in the high school, which was built for 1,200.
Galinski says that the same overcrowding was happening at the old school.
School supporters hope for a strong showing from the community in support of the schools at the Council meeting on the 18th.