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Layoffs, cuts balance FY15 school budget

Date: 5/16/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The School Committee was able to pass the fiscal year 2015 budget that dealt with a $19.9 million deficit at its May 12 meeting but not without some sacrifices.

School Superintendent Daniel Warwick said the cuts that were made were kept “as far from the classroom as possible.” The budget eliminated 20.5 administrative positions.

Warwick said that cuts of $7 million in both state and federal funding adversely affected budget as well as $37 million that is diverted from the public school budget to charter schools and out of district placements.

Warwick said that when parents elect to send their students to charter schools, the funding for their education goes to that school.

Timothy Collins, president of the Springfield Education Association, said that state education funding – Chapter 70 – is the least in the poorest area of the state.

“This has nothing to do with the needs of the kids,” Collins said.  

Patrick Roach, the chief financial officer for the School Department, added the state did not follow its own formula for the allocation of Chapter 70 funds. 

Mayor Domenic Sarno said, “This is a good budget.” 

The complete budget is $448.5 million, which is a 2.5 percent increase over the FY 2014 budget. 

The budget includes: the establishment of a new school of performing arts; a technology blueprint that will provide every student with a computer every day in every class by 2016; intervention programming for struggling students; universal free lunch for all students; new desks and chairs for students; building improvements; new textbooks; and additional school safety resources.

Other features include that all Level 3 middle schools will have math tutoring services. John J. Duggan School will become a grade six through 12 school over the next four years, adding one high school grade per year beginning with grade nine in 2014. The Chestnut Accelerated Middle School will become three schools.  

In the budget’s introduction, Warwick wrote, “For the past five years the budgeting process has started the same way for our school district. We have continually faced the reality of shrinking resources set against a backdrop of increasing costs. The challenge has been daunting, but our commitment to our mission has been non-negotiable. I stand proud in the belief that our community has come to expect us to do everything possible to ensure the success of every student.” 

The vote to approve the vote was not unanimous. Issues with email prevented two members of the School Committee, Barbara Gresham and Rosa Perez, from receiving answers to questions they had about the budget. Perez made a motion to delay the vote so she and Gresham would have time to consider the information they received. The meeting was halted for a few minutes and there was discussion about how much time was needed and whether or not the committee members could either meet on May 15 to May 16 to take the final vote. With the urging of Sarno, the committee voted to proceed with a final vote. Both Gresham and Perez voted against the budget.