Friday, June 3, 2016

A few things about yesterday's Worcester Public School budget hearing

My notes from yesterday are here; Scott O'Connell of the T&G reports here. He's captured the major direction of the deliberations.
As I listened yesterday, I kept reflecting back on this:
The vote of the legislative body of a city or town shall establish the total appropriation for the support of the public schools, but may not limit the authority of the school committee to determine expenditures within the total appropriation. 
M.G.L. ch. 71, sec. 34
In Massachusetts, school committees are virtually unparallelled in their power to allocate within their budget. A simple majority vote moves money.
The thing is, though, the vote has to move money. There's no such thing as a vote to "find" money, as the motion yesterday on school security. And ultimately, it's up to the school committee, not the administration--which has already done its job in presenting a recommended budget to the committee--to examine the recommendations and make the allocations.
Mayor Petty captured this well in his reaction to the "find a million dollars motion" when he said he found it hard to believe that this was going to happen.
If there were a million more dollars for teachers, they already would have been moved by the administration in the recommended budget. It wasn't.
Wishing, or making motions, doesn't make it so.

The news that the city was putting an additional $250,000 into school capital is a welcome one, given that the account has been level funded for years. We get back into that sticky allocation question with the addendum that the funds are "for security," however; school allocations are made by the school committee, not by the city.
I'd also question if $250,000 in cameras is really the most pressing capital need of the Worcester Public Schools right now, given the flat facilities account, the increasing pressure on the buses in service, and the welcome-but-restrictive local funding of the MSBA repairs. There are lots of needs, and that allocation should be decided by deliberation, not by administrative fiat.


Superintendent Binienda, in response to a question on security planning, responded that she's meeting with the Chief of police regarding staff training, which may include ALICE, which is the "fight back" response to an active shooter. This has been hotly debated in the communities in which it has been adopted. This is not only a policy change--which is under school committee purview--it's also a fairly substantive change for those of us with children in schools. It certainly warrants plenty of public discussion before any such change is made. I hope--though honestly I didn't see any indication--that such a discussion is planned.

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