Saturday, March 1, 2014

FY15 Don't Panic: Organize

Okay, folks: it's budget season, and, for the Worcester Public Schools, it isn't going to be pretty.

Let's start with a few slides from the FY15 presentation that spell out pretty much all you need to know.
(These are just screenshots from Mr. Allen's presentation, which is here. You can click to make them bigger.)

First, the projected change in the money coming in:
So, all told? We're looking at a DROP in funding from last year.

But, not surprisingly, our costs aren't going to go down. Here's the increase in cost to just open the doors, with no change in service, next year:
(that's right in line with previous years; it's usually about $11 million)

The thing is, though, we can't just reopen the doors next year with no change. We have more kids in particular areas, we have curriculum needs and changes...

...and we have other things that we really ought to be doing that we aren't...

Those three slides together: 

and if you do the math:
Now, we can, and undoubtedly will, debate the relative merits of some of the above; OPEB, for example, doesn't count towards Net School Spending, and thus is probably not a good choice for a system below that already. Maybe we need to postpone some decisions and purchases.

Most of the above, however, is not really debatable. We have 25,000 students who are going to turn up next August, and we have to have teachers there with the lights on and computers working and supplies to use with buses to get them back and forth. 
The money for the Worcester Public Schools only comes from two places: the state, which funds (for next year) a projected 73% of our general fund budget, and the city, which funds the remaining 27%. The projected lacks of the revenue for this coming year is due to both sources: on the state side, Chapter 70 not going up by much, and on the city side, the continued funding at or below Net School Spending.

I keep using the word "projected," though, because neither the state nor the city has passed their budgets yet, so we don't actually know what those numbers are going to be at the end of the day. And the people who ultimately make both of those decisions are people who are elected by us and work for us.

Thus it is time:
  • to start writing emails and making phone calls
  • to show up for meetings
  • to waylay elected officials as you see them
  • to get the word out to parents and education advocates so they do likewise
On the state side, right now the House Ways and Means committee is developing their budget. They don't do that in a locked box; they hear from members constantly as they do so. Thus contacting Representatives Mahoney, O'Day, Keefe, Donahue, and Binienda right now is a good idea. Once that Ways and Means budget comes out, amendments and passage are quick, so you want to get to them now. 
Once the House does their budget, it will the Senate's turn, so starting to get in touch with Senators Chandler and Moore is also a good idea, and it isn't too early to do so.
Mr. Monfredo gave a good rundown on state budget issues when he spoke to this at our Thursday meeting; I would focus on increasing Chapter 70, fully funding the circuit breaker, and fully funding the charter reimbursement in advocating now. While fully funding preschool is a great idea, it doesn't make any difference to our budget for FY15.
(Longer term, we also need them to look at the foundation budget, but that won't help us this year.)

The other piece of our budget comes from the city, and the city, of course, has significantly greater discretion when determining how much to spend on schools. Worcester--finally--passed a budget that was at our foundation budget last year, but, because it was only AT foundation, we slipped below it over the course of the year. We've been warned directly by the state against doing this, and yet it persists.
It's time to stop.
The statewide average for funding schools is about 18% over foundation. Worcester is in the bottom 2% of school funding when it comes to cityside funding over foundation.
Worcester can, and should, do better.
In Worcester, the City Manager recommends a budget to the City Council; the City Council can cut that budget but--and this is important--they CANNOT ADD TO IT. Thus, if there is going to be a budgetary recommendation that is anything other than "we hit foundation," it needs to be in the budget that's recommended.
Much like the House Ways and Means, the City Manager and his administration aren't in a locked box while they develop the budget, which they are doing now. City Councilors advocate for priorities.
Let's make one of them schools.
There's a link to the right with the contact information for City Councilors. They need to hear from the community, loud and clear, that schools need money to back up the assertion that they are a priority for this community. Saying it doesn't make it so.
If you are free, I'd also urge you to come to the Joint Committee meeting on March 10 at 5:30 at the Durkin Administration Building. The School Committee Finance & Operations subcommittee will be discussing the FY15 budget with the City Council Education Committee. 

This is a budget gap that isn't going to magically disappear by June. It's going to take a community outcry to close it in any way that doesn't do harm to our kids' education.
Time to organize. 

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