This site aims to inform and mobilize Beverly parents to take an active role in all issues related to the funding and operation of the city's schools. It was launched in the spring of 2008, when the city saw its first-ever override attempt fail, followed by the closure of a nearly-new elementary school. Subsequent years have seen further cuts that have led to larger class sizes across the district. While the opening of an impressive new high school and plans to replace the city's aging middle school give us reason to be optimistic, the school community must be ever vigilant in demanding appropriate school funding by city and state governments, and better community communications from the district and School Committee.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

City Shows Schools How to do the Shuffle

City Finance Director John Dunn last night detailed a series a moves within various parts of the city and school budget that he says will close the $415,000 shortfall in this year's school budget.  Today's Salem News has details on the meeting and the elements of the plan, which include the previously announced offer by Mayor Scanlon to cover the $100,000 in unplanned unemployment costs from the city's free cash account, as well as several other moves from within various school cost centers.
At last night's City Council meeting, city Finance Director John Dunn outlined a patchwork solution that includes such measures as giving the schools $100,000 from the city's free-cash account and postponing a $96,000 repair job on an elevator at Briscoe Middle School....

...Dunn said he met with Jean Sherburne, the schools' new finance director, to review the school budget and determine possible solutions, and then with Mayor Bill Scanlon.

The review identified potential savings in 17 areas of the school budget of between $117,000 and $190,000 from now until the end of the fiscal year in June.
Those of us that have followed the budget closely the past few years have learned before about the city's creative accounting methods where money has been shuffled from distant places such as the trash account to cover deficits elsewhere.  While it is a bit of a relief to have a solution at hand short of mid-year teacher layoffs, any move of money from a city account to a school account would require a public hearing, and a city council vote.

Several councilors questioned how the city, facing other large unexpected costs this year in the snow removal and police overtime budgets, and looking toward what all expect to be huge budget challenges in FY12, could afford to give the schools the $100,000 from free cash.

Dunn said it would be tough, but the city could afford it, but acknowledged that if there were any further cost overruns "We're in trouble."

He received somewhat qualified support on that statement from city budget analyst Kathy Griffin who made it clear she only analyzed the two specific parts of the budget that accounted for the majority of the funds.

As far as the major new element of that plan, postponing the planned overhaul of an elevator at Briscoe, councilors seemed to dance around the question they really wanted to ask, "Is the elevator safe in its current state?" asking only if it has a current certification.

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