Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn School Committee to vote on proposed $147.2M budget next week

Lynn City Hall (File Photo)

LYNN — The Lynn School Committee is expected to vote next week on a proposed $147.2 million fiscal year 2019 school budget.

There are no layoffs in the proposed school budget, School Business Administrator Kevin McHugh told the School Committee last Thursday, with administrative officials opting to trim $1.8 million from the budget since it was last presented to the board, by not filling vacant positions and reducing some other department expenses.

“Rather than lay off anyone or have it affect the schools right now, we’re trying to hold on jobs that have yet to be filled,” said Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham.

McHugh said the initial plan was to bring on an extra school psychologist, but to save funds, the decision was made to reduce the budget to the existing staff of six, saving $103,391.

He said there’s an opening for a nurse, but officials have opted not to fill that position, saving $67,774. The school security budget has been cut by $50,000.  

Mayor Thomas M. McGee said the budget fully funds net school spending, and is actually $2 million above the district’s net school spending requirement.

Chapter 70 of the general laws, establishes a net school spending requirement for each Massachusetts school district. Failure to comply with this requirement may result in non-approval of a municipality’s tax rate, enforcement action by the Attorney General, or loss of state aid, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In recent years, the city has struggled to meet its net school spending requirement. In FY16, the city was short by about $800,000, and was penalized. The struggle dates back to FY13, when officials were erroneously counting teacher retiree health insurance as an allowable cost toward net school spending and were playing catch up until last year, city officials said.

“We’re in good standing,” McGee said. “The commitment obviously is to fund the net school spending. We complied with the $2 million over the years with everything that was done last year.”

To offset some of the school budget reductions, McHugh said he’s expecting the schools to receive $344,973 from a grant program through the state, which is meant to offset the cost of the district taking in students from Puerto Rico following the hurricanes last fall.

He said the district recently received $191,000 and expects to get the total $344,973 early next month.

To further offset the reductions, McHugh said the district could receive economically disadvantaged funds through the state budget process — last year, the schools received $3.1 million.

“I talked to the state … and they’re saying it’s still in discussions,” McHugh said. “They seemed somewhat confident that we were going to get something. How much, I can’t sit here and say.”

School Committee member Jared Nicholson said the district has received economically disadvantaged funding for the past two years and they’re expecting to get it again, but it’s pending in the legislature.

Nicholson said the state government changed its metric for measuring poverty, which ended up penalizing Lynn, meaning that kids that were in the same financial system before the state changed the definition were not being counted.

The purpose of the economically disadvantaged funding as far as the state is concerned, he said, is to make up for the negative impact of the change in formula on low-income students, which was unfairly penalizing Lynn.

“You can count on it, but it’s in the middle of budget negotiations right now and we will probably know in the next couple of weeks when the budget is finalized what’s going to go to the governor,” McGee said.  

Referring to the home rule petition that was passed earlier this year in the legislature and signed off by the governor, McGee said the city had to borrow $9.5 million this year to balance the city’s FY18 budget, which includes the schools, and is still borrowing $4 million for the FY19 budget.

“We’re not out of the woods at all in terms of finances,” he said. “So, it’s important to understand there’s a lot going on in terms of the whole city budget that reflects on what’s happening. So, we’re facing those challenges together and I think we’re hopeful with what the Senate is doing that we get some extra money as the budget ends to get us to a better place.”

The School Committee is expected to vote on the FY19 school budget June 28.  

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