City Council President Patricia Pope called the School Committee’s budget an abomination and embarrassment before the Finance Committee voted to recommend an additional $2.6 million to fill out the school budget.
"This is absolutely unacceptable ... the budget is due to the city council the same time it’s always due,” said Pope explaining that the “hiccup” was no excuse as she referred to the ousting of Former Superintendent Anthony Pope. “The budget process this year was nothing short of an abomination and embarrassment.”
The additional $2,581,967 represents a 5.3 percent increase over the FY '13 appropriated school budget of $50,852,532. The funds cover five major areas that include additional curriculum costs and special education expenditures.
The city has funds in the Free Cash account to cover the additional expenses, but if that was not the case, the city would be making “some very, very painful cuts right now,” said Pope.
“We would have had you swinging from a lamp post if you had come in here with this without money in your back pocket,” she said to Mayor Arthur Vigeant who presented the request for additional money along with Interim Superintendent Steven Dlott. “We have to start fresh now to move forward and not let this happen again.”
Pope also reiterated comments from finance committee members who warned that the levels being spent at might not be sustainable.
Councilor Kathleen Robey said that the school budget could not be sustained at this level. Councilor Robert Seymour encouraged the superintendent to look at programs that might have to be cut moving forward and not put them in place, saying that is better than getting people involved in programs and then having to let them go.
The committee voted to recommend the council approve the additional funds, but not before Committee Chairman Michael Ossing asked for monthly financial reports from the district. He said he would prefer to work with the school committee, but that the expenditures need to be monitored.
“We are looking to be able to monitor how the school department is spending it’s budget,” he said referring to the approval of the funds as the departments "Christmas" and the monitoring the price that had to be paid.
Ossing also warned that this sets the school up with a larger budget next year, as only $400,000 of the nearly $2.6 million increase are one time costs.