Today's Salem News summarizes the meeting, including Mayor Scanlon's offer for the city to pay the estimated $100,000 in unbudgeted unemployment costs, an offer the Mayor made with a bit of a jab at the previous school administration:
Mayor Bill Scanlon last night offered to give the schools $100,000 from the city's free cash account to alleviate the School Department's $415,000 budget deficit.Most of the Special Education budget issues have been previously reported, but the unemployment figure was discussed in more detail. Galinski said that the Federal extension of benefits to 99 weeks, as well as rules that require payments to current staff whose hours were reduced have caused the average payment to laid-off workers to double from $18,000 to $36,000.
Following a presentation by Superintendent Marie Galinski to the City Council outlining the deficit, Scanlon said the money would cover the school's projected $100,000 overrun for the unemployment costs of laid-off school employees."I have sympathy for the superintendent," Scanlon said. "She inherited a situation not of her making."
It seems that the district is paying unemployment benefits to many of the current school support staff whose hours were reduced in last year's controversial cost cutting moves. We asked Dr. Galinski for a fuller explanation of this, and she explained that "If a person was making $12,000 in a full time position and we cut their position to 1/2 time. Their new salary will be $6,000. They are allowed to collect up to $6,000 from unemployment to make up the difference in their pay."
Another point that received considerable discussion was school choice.
It has been previously noted that the schools had to turn away some applicants from other towns who wished to attend Beverly schools because of space limitations. This has led to a loss of more than $100,000 in revenue.
Several councilors seemed interested in this figure, and wondered if an effort could be made to encourage more out-of-town students. Galinski and School Committee President Annemarie Cesa said that the limitations were due mostly to space restrictions. With both an elementary and a middle school having been closed in the past 5 years, and a new high school that is smaller than the old one, there are space limitation issues across the district.
On a related note, Galinski reports that the number of students who choice OUT of Beverly schools is at the lowest level in 17 years—a positive statement about the schools that also saves the city the cost of outgoing tuition. But in a noteworthy accounting fact, it was detailed that outgoing tuition is paid by the city, not by the schools, whereas any tuition from students choicing INTO Beverly schools goes directly into the school budget. So the schools are not seeing a revenue gain from Beverly students returning to the district, but are seeing a revenue loss from fewer out-of town students being accepted in.
Galinski said school choice revenue is down because Beverly has limited space at the new high school to accept out-of-town students. School choice is the program that allows public school students to attend schools outside their districts, with the host school getting state money for each incoming student.
The School Committee limits the number of out-of-town students to 10 per grade. City Council President Mike Cahill asked if that number can be increased, but Cesa said that would mean larger class sizes.
"We're not going to increase our class size to increase our revenue," Cesa said.
Scanlon said he also wants city finance director John Dunn to sit down with new school budget director Jean Sherburne to go over the school budget in detail, and said he hopes to be able to report back to the Council that the two have found further ways to close the deficit.Galinski said only 80 Beverly students have chosen to attend other public schools, the lowest number since 1993. That saves money on the city side of the budget in terms of outgoing tuition costs, but not in the school budget, she said.
"We changed the superintendent and the business manager in a short period of time," Scanlon said. "We'll get back to you at the next meeting and hopefully will have a lot of this solved."Galinski also stated that the district is planning to conduct an outside audit of the Special Education department in order to see what more can be done to control costs there, and Council President Mike Cahill says he plans to bring up the school budget at next week's finance committee meeting.