Mayor: ‘Too Soon to Tell’ on New Bedford Schools Budget
Earlier this week, New Bedford Schools Superintendent Dr. Pia Durkin outlined her initial Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal to the School Committee, asking for nearly $147 million, including over $7 million more in enhancements than the previous year.
In his weekly appearance on WBSM, Mayor Jon Mitchell said it's too soon to tell if the City will be able to fund the requested budget.
"It's too early in the process," Mitchell said.
The district's level service budget is about $139.6 million, nearly $9 million over Fiscal Year 2018's budget. Dr. Durkin said a reduction in grants, maintenance projects, an updated science curriculum, IT projects, and special education cost increases account for the inflation of the level service budget.
Mitchell said roughly 84 percent of the school department's budget comes from state aid. Chapter 70 aid from the state stands at $143.4 million dollars, with required net school spending at $171.8 million, requiring a $28.4 million contribution from the district.
"Chapter 70 aid has not grown in a way that reflects the true cost of educating, especially urban students," Mitchell said.
What's worse, the mayor said that lack of adequate state aid is holding back what New Bedford can offer its students.
"That's a bottom line, the statutory bare minimum in Massachusetts to fund a school district," Mitchell said. "We have complied with the statutory requirement that we meet net school spending. Frankly, I would like to be above it, but we know the problem we have with getting revenue from the City. We have to be mindful of taxpayers to fund the school above that level, which is not easy."
"We're in this situation where we can't fund everything. We have to fund the important things, and keep an eye on those things that are growing in cost faster than the rate of inflation," he said.
Mitchell said one issue is school transportation. He said the school department has had the benefit of a fairly long contract that's now expiring.
"So those costs are going to re-set, and get more expensive," he said.
He also noted the increasing cost of special education, and he said the state does not do a good job of off-setting that cost with reimbursements.
Another huge issue, he said, is the cost of funding charter schools.
"Charter schools continue to suck up a disproportionate amount of resources," he said. "It's foisted on us by the state, at about $14 million. That continues to crowd out our ability to put more funding in our school system. On a per-pupil basis, charters get a higher level of funding than the schools in the district."
Mitchell said the reimbursement rate for new charter school costs is: 100 percent in year one, 50 percent in year two, 25 percent for the next three years, and then no reimbursement after that, with the intention that the charter school will be "weaned off" the district by then.
"The problem is, under the current gubernatorial administration, that program has not been funded nearly adequately," he said. "So we're getting whacked with that every year, and that's money that could be going into the school system, but isn't."