Public Budget Hearing, 09 May 2016

School Committee Public Budget Hearing

09 May 2015

[EDITED TO INCLUDE] LTC Taped the hearing and it can be found on this weblink.  Click on May 9 videolink.

All members present.

The Budget Hearing was taped for later broadcast. The originally proposed budget can be found on the LPS website here.  The Finance Department link for the Lowell Schools is here. Changed budget allocations will hopefully be published sooner rather than later.

As this was on record as a public input session, there were several participants who spoke during the beginning of the meeting when public input was invited.

  • Susan Orton, a parent of two students at the Middle School level spoke about the positive impact on her family and special needs child in this child’s success. Her student is assigned to a substantially separate classroom, and is experiencing school success credited to a strong program and the expertise of in-district autism staff.
  • Ellen Romanowsky, a CSA teacher at the Bailey School detailed burnout of teachers within this type of program and advocated for increasing the staff so that student to staff ratios were more in line with meeting the needs of this challenging population.
  • Lisa Tenczar, a teacher in a substantially separate program in the Lowell Schools spoke about needs for expertise of behavior specialists and how classroom-specialist collaboration makes for successful support of students’ needs.
  • Shon Texiera made an impassioned plea for increasing the in-district program. Mr. Texiera is the parent of a young student whose needs are currently met through participation in CREST Collaborative program and must be bused to Methuen daily.

In response to this commentary, both Jeannine Durkin (Assistant Superintendent for Student Support) and Jennifer McCrystal (Director of Special Education) reiterated that the LPS is committed to expanding in-house placement of students; however there are necessary considerations for space and safety that need to be addressed.

Returning the budget, Mr. Frisch, CFO, began by stating that budget decisions were a function of the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan with recommendations for changes made by an administrator of each program affected. After the last budget presentation and Finance Subcommittee meeting there were some adjustments made to the originally proposed budget including adding back Lowell High positions in World Language and English, changes to the merger of the MCC Bridge Program with the Cardinal O’Connell School Program, reducing the number of positions for coaches from the originally request, lowering the Superintendent’s Office Supply Budget and use of School Lunch Program funds for some line items.

Starting with page 16 in the Superintendent’s Recommended FY2017 Budget, the School Committee commented and asked for clarifications on changes line by line.  Some noted that the Year to Date (YTD) expenditures seemed significantly off (example under Line 1100, School Committee memberships were budgeted at $6,000 for 2015-16, yet show spent amount at $100). As the Committee reviewed the recommendations, questionable numbers for YTD expenses were listed several times causing the Committee members to ask both Mr. Frisch and Dr. Khelfaoui to review questionable items with answers available by the next meeting (5/11).

There was a note made that, as the Bridge Program will be transitioned more slowly, the salaries of the personnel currently picked up by Middlesex Community College will become the responsibility of the Lowell Schools. Most, if not all, of the staff are paid at a rate below the Collective Bargaining amounts. The United Teachers of Lowell will need to allow the transitioning Bridge staff members to be paid at lower rates for the transition year. (not yet assured, however the Superintendent seems confident that it will be allowed and the following year affected staff will be paid according to Collective Bargaining).

Class size numbers caused by the promotion of the Bubble Class (currently in Grade 4) was a concern. The numbers (ranging from 24 at the Pyne Arts to 31 at the Daley) do not reflect any students transferring to the Rogers STEM classrooms (2 Grade 5 classes to open in the Fall 2016). The School Committee concern is that students may not wish to attend a school outside of their neighborhood assignment in Grade 5, or that the majority of students assigned to the Rogers will be newcomers; the final tally after recruitment to the Rogers Grade 5 is still to be determined. Mr. Gignac did not vote to approve this budgeted account due to his concerns about large class sizes and the need for further discussion to address the same.

Both monies from an account with Comcast and the school lunch program were used to offset some expenses throughout the proposed budget.  The Comcast account, in particular was mentioned as having a significant balance which, prior to this budget, had not been tapped.

Surprisingly the Transportation budget (Item 3300) was for less than the past year (2015-16: $3,399,900 proposed 2016-17 $$3,369,500). Even with what may be increased transport of students (opening of Grade 4 and Grade 5 at the Rogers was cited), the Superintendent and CFO both feel the number is accurately pegged as the transportation company will not replace buses as aggressively as in the past.

Under Account 3500, Athletics and Student Activities, there was an increase in coaches to include 10 new coaching stipends. Ms. Martin questioned this and expressed that adding athletic coaching positions while cutting academic staff (paras, teachers) seemed ill-timed. Additionally the line item for CBOs (Community Based programming such as the after-school Y or CTI before/after school programs) was eliminated.

During discussion of Item 4000, Custodial and Security, the elimination of custodians at the High School was discussed as well as the inclusion of two plumber positions and HVAC technician at LHS.  The Facility Director position returned to a single K-12 position (was two: a K-8 and a LHS). Mr. Hoey proposed that a stipend ($25,000) be given to two custodians who could perform facility director functions as part of a career ladder.  There was much discussion about the building maintenance and city-side vs. school-side maintenance and charge-backs. In the end, this budget item was approved 6 to 1 with Mr. Hoey voting no.

As it was after 10 pm, the meeting was adjourned with three additional budget items to be discussed (starting on Page 38 of the proposed budget) and several questions to be answered. The Budget Discussions will continue on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:15 pm, Rogers School (taped for later broadcast).