City Frees Up $500k for Schools’ Shortfall
LOWELL -- City officials freed up half a million dollars to help close a $3.2 million shortfall in the school budget, saving six positions in the district that faced cuts.
In a Monday meeting about the financial situation, City Manager Eileen Donoghue said Lowell’s municipal side did not have any flexibility to help address the district’s gaps. But in the days since then, Donoghue located close to $500,000 that could be put toward the schools, according to Mayor Bill Samaras.
As a result, one citywide social worker, two clerk schedulers, two department heads and one foreign language teacher no longer face cuts, Samaras said.
“It’s a difficult time, a tight financial time, but (Donoghue) did her due diligence and listened to the School Committee and City Council,” Samaras said.
District officials say they need $168.7 million for the system to provide the same level of services, but the recommended operating budget is only $165.5 million, creating the shortfall. To cope with that, the budget proposes cutting 43 positions, including library aides, school clerks and teachers.
Following Monday’s meeting, Donoghue identified additional money in the budget to help mitigate the impact. Samaras said about $250,000 will come from the city not charging the district for the year’s water and sewage bill, an amount the district anticipated paying but can now put toward other needs. The remaining $250,000 comes from money designated for education programs in Lowell as part of a contract with Comcast, Samaras said.
Donoghue could not be reached for comment Friday.
Despite the boost, the shortfall still stands at $2.7 million, and 38 positions, many of which are teachers, may be removed. Officials hope that state funding can help close more of the gap.
The state Senate budget, approved last week, would give Lowell schools an additional $1.6 million in local aid, while the House version would only give about half a million dollars more, according to Samaras.
″(Donoghue) feels strongly that the Senate version of the money will probably be significant enough to deal with most of the issues that the School Department has,” Samaras said.
The City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night requesting the state fully fund Lowell’s “foundation budget,” the system under which local aid is disbursed. The Foundation Budget Review Commission studied the system and found that it understates costs, leaving many local districts with gaps.
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