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Waltham Councilors Concerned About School Budget Structure

Budget process continues next week.

Waltham City Councilors last night expressed deep concerns with the school district’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget.

“Justifies nothing and represents 30 percent of the city budget,” said as he held the budget up in the air.

Brasco added that the school committee should have made it more transparent and accountable to Waltham taxpayers.

The concerns of Brasco and other councilors came during last night’s Finance Committee hearing during which presented the proposed $67,194,041 budget for their review.

Specifically, several councilors said they disagreed with the structure of the budget because it masks details on how funds would be spent. Basically, the budget is arranged into two parts, salaries and expenses (A/B format). No details on most items are available in the budget.

During budget hearings at the School Committee earlier this year, Vice Chairman Susan Burstein insisted on formulating the budget in it’s current format, which , who serves as the committee’s vice chair, disagreed. Burstein said that a particular member’s conflict of interest meant they budget must be done in the A/B format, according to the committee’s April 25 minutes.

Ultimately, the budget was approved with the two line-item approach, but only after lengthy debate.

echoed Brasco’s concerns.

“I find this all very disconcerting,” she said.

Nicholson responded saying she regretted not having meetings on the format of the budget.

With their concerns now publicly aired, the Finance Committee will likely meet on Tuesday, May 29 to have a “cutting session,” during which councilors will discuss ways to save money on the school budget, according to City Councilor Thomas Curtin, who chairs the Finance Committee. Then, the City Council will vote on its final budget, including the school budget, but that date has yet to be scheduled. 

BUDGET FACTORS

  • Overall, the district is requesting around $2 million in additional funding over last year, which equals a 3.87 percent increase.
  • Reasons for the increase: more than $500,000 in federal stimulus money received in prior years is set to expire, raises for teachers in accordance with their new contract and projected increases in enrollment at the elementary level, according to Nicholson.
  • Also, Nicholson said the extra funding is required for her proposed reorganization of administrative positions.
  • Also, the budget represents an additional 11.9 full-time positions, according to Nicholson.

Councilors also expressed other concerns on the budget, which are detailed below.

CONCERNS

  • City Councilor Daniel Romard said he believes the district has too many administrators. To back up his point, he listed two payroll clerks, a fiscal coordinator, a business manager and other financial-related positions. He said the budget should focus more on shifting resources to items that directly benefit students. “I do think in fact that is where we can see the most savings and the most cuts,” Romard said of use of administrators.
  • Curtin warned Nicholson that the budget, in its current form, would run afoul of a city ordinance capping the number of full-time school employees at  approximately 887. According to Waltham Patch calculations, the budget currently calls for around 893 positions.
  • “You should be aware of that and plan accordingly,” Curtin said, suggesting Nicholson ask the School Committee for additional funding.
  • City Councilor Joseph Giordano said he wants to see the district add a Reserve Office Training Corps program to the district, something Nicholson said she is willing to explore.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly named Joseph Giordano. It has been corrected.

Jen P May 24, 2012 at 10:47 AM
There is no George Giordano. There's George Darcy or Joe Giordano. I presume it's the latter as he's involved with veteran's affairs.
Ryan Grannan-Doll May 24, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Indeed Jen, indeedl I apologies. Just a plain ole mistake.
Tim Hill May 24, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Ryan, thank you for the summary, it is greatly appreciated. Even watching these meetings on tv can be painful, so having someone attend that can summarize them timely is a blessing. I have had the same problem with the education budget that the counsel expressed, so it surprised me that it is just being brought up now. Take a look at the city budget. There are several line items for everything, and then one entry for the school budget which dwarfs everything else. I don't necessarily have a problem with the school budget, but that may be because I have no idea what is it it!
Tim Hill May 24, 2012 at 02:17 PM
A review of the minutes for the April 25th meeting (http://www.walthampublicschools.org/SC/min042512.pdf) indicates that having members of the school committee that have conflicts of interests is more harm than it is worth. First, as the summary above shows, it prevents transparency of the budget. And second, it appears that the boundaries are not well defined. For example, at one point during the April 25th meeting, "Mrs. Limonciello remarked that she found it inappropriate for Mr. Tarallo to make personnel and line item suggestions on something he had specifically recused himself from earlier in the budget discussion." Why do we elect people to the school committee that can't fully participate in the process? Is the best way to improve our school system by tying one hand behind our backs?

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