LYNN — Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler told the School Committee on Thursday night the proposed $159.3 million fiscal year 2020 Lynn Public Schools budget allows the district to take some steps forward, but still leaves a large number of its needs unmet.
Although Tutwiler said the 7.25 percent budget increase over last year’s budget of $148.5 million represents the largest in many years, it will take more than $40 million to close the gap for Lynn Public Schools in order to meet those needs.
One of the major unmet needs, which fostered the most discussion from the committee, was the need for more social workers in the district’s schools.
School Committee member Brian Castellanos read an email he received from an eighth grade civics class that requested the district budget more money for social workers in schools throughout the city, which they said could greatly reduce mental health problems.
Castellanos said the district is spending funds to implement a K-5 social-emotional learning curriculum, but doesn’t have the social workers to support it. Social worker caseloads are too high in the district, he said, which has a negative impact on being able to meet the needs of students.
Tutwiler agreed more social workers are needed, citing a clinical recommendation that says the ratio in the district should be one social worker per 250 students. For instance, earlier this year, he said there are 1,800 students apiece at Lynn Classical and Lynn English high schools, but there’s only one social worker staffed at each school. There should be five at each school, he said.
“How many things can you tackle with a finite budget?” Tutwiler said. “It’s going to take some time. This sort of change will not be an event. It will be a process and it will happen over time.”
The FY2020 budget increase is largely due to a significant increase in Chapter 70 state aid to the schools due to a proposed revamp of the foundation budget formula. The Lynn Public Schools budget is using the governor’s projected numbers of a $15.1 million increase in aid to the city, but the proposed Senate Ways and Means budget puts that projected aid at $18.15 million.
Tutwiler said the budget will not only meet, but exceed the district’s required net school spending, with projections putting that figure $1.9 million over the requirement. The budget allows the district to add more than 50 positions and to meet all its contractual obligations related to transportation and teacher step increases.
He said the budget also allows him to meet some of his district improvement goals, including those related to middle school overcrowding with a new eighth grade discovery academy that will house 305 students, implementing a social-emotional learning curriculum for grades K-5 and getting closer to state compliance with meeting the needs of English language learners and students on Individualized Programs (IEPs).
Nearly 30 of the added positions are for special education and more than six are for the English Learner Education department, including a new assistant ELE director, with the latter allowing the district to almost double its ESL instruction at the elementary level next year.
Tutwiler said administrative officials wanted to embrace the idea of equity, not necessarily of equality. Not every school is going to get funding for the same things, he said, because officials wanted to focus on the needs of individual schools.
The School Committee will continue to discuss the budget at its June 13 meeting and a public hearing on the budget will be held on June 27.