School Budget Shortfall Hits More than $3 Million, Called Today’s Civil Rights Struggle

The Chelsea Public Schools has hit a major shortfall in its budgeting for next year, and reported at recent meeting that it is in deficit $3.1 million, and has been underfunded by as much as $17.2 million by the state funding formula.

It has now become a major call to action for the school community and for activists in Chelsea, including the Chelsea Collaborative – whose Director, Gladys Vega, called on the City Council to support joining a lawsuit against the state for underfunding schools.

That suit was filed by Brockton and Worcester last week due to what they believe is chronic underfunding of urban schools through the 1993 Education Reform School Budget Formula.

“This reimbursement problem in the formula needs to be solved and I think we need to address the formula and I urge the City and the City Council to join with Brockton on this lawsuit against the state,” said Vega at Monday’s Council meeting.

She was right on the same page with Supt. Mary Bourque, who on Monday morning said they are seriously considering making that move.

“We have not officially joined, but we are seriously exploring the need to join this lawsuit,” she said.

By the numbers, the state Chapter 70 School Budget has underfunded the Chelsea Schools in five categories, according to the schools. One of the key pieces comes from the new definition of economically disadvantaged students (formerly low-income), which has caused an underfunding of $1.077 million in the coming year. Other areas included things where full reimbursements are promised, but only partially delivered – such as with Charter School reimbursements.

Those numbers include:

  • Fringe Benefits, $5.78 million
  • Charter School Reimbursement, $2.014 million
  • Special Education Tuition, $7.98 million
  • Homeless Student Transportation, $373,059

This came on the heels of a very lively and contentious meeting at City Hall by the School Committee on March 15, where the School Budget process was rolled out to a standing-room only crowd.

Bourque led off the meeting saying it is time to stand up for public education, and pressure legislators to take up the cause – a cause she said was the Civil Rights struggle of our time.

“Sadly, we find ourselves in a time and place where we are not willing as a society to invest in public education,” she said. “Each year I come to you with a budget that is failing each year to meet the complex needs of our students. Each year I come to you with a budget that fails to provide an equitable education compared to public school children in wealthier communities. Each year these educators…are being asked to do more with less and less. Providing our schools with the funding that’s needed to educate the next generation is the Civil Rights struggle of our time. I ask you: Will you join me in this Civil Rights struggle and our quest for social justice? We need to have the courage to standup now and today for public education.”

The Chelsea Teacher’s Union called for the same kind of advocacy, but also called on the City and the City Council to use its $34 million in Free Cash to shore up the School Budget.

“For the short term, the City of Chelsea has made some significant investment in the schools and we appreciate that. However, we need more,” said Sam Baker, vice president of the union. “The City has $34 million in Free Cash and the City is seeing significant real estate development. What is the purpose of all this this development and progress if the proceeds aren’t going to support the education of the kids in Chelsea? The CTU welcomes the opportunity to advocate for changes at the state level. That’s a long term solution. I’m asking the School Committee and the school community to lobby the City Council to release more funds to the School Department here in order to prevent the cuts to this proposed budget.”

Catherine Ellison, a special education teacher at the Browne Middle School, said many of her students have suffered because of budgets last year. She said last year the middle school Special Education budget was slashed, and after hearing of the impacts, the budget still wasn’t restored.

“Caseloads have soared while resources have severely declined,” she said. “Children have been forced to struggle in mainstream classes while funds were cut…Our staff and our students have been aggressive in addressing the increasing and complex needs of our brilliant, resilient and magnificent children. It’s time for the school district to do the same.”

Chelsea is not alone in the struggles, which is why the lawsuit is such a tempting option for urban schools like Chelsea.

Already, in Everett, mid-year cuts to the tune of $6 million were avoided by an infusion of cash by the City, and it is expected that the Everett Schools could need as much as $8 million to plug holes next year.

Revere has a similar circumstance and isn’t as far in its budgeting process as Chelsea and Everett, but it is expected they will have a sharp deficit as well.

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