This was supposed to be the School Budget where Supt. Almi Abeyta and the School Committee could finally relax as the first year of Student Opportunity Act (SOA) funding was to roll in and there would be no need to weigh out cutting a librarian versus a social worker.
Then came March 13, the day the schools closed down and COVID-19 took hold and changed everything about life in general – which of course included the School Budget.
Now, after thinking they had a chance to reverse years of cuts, the administration has had to go back to the drawing board to close a $2.8 million gap in funding that they expect in the coming fiscal year – which begins on July 1.
“We went into this budget season in the winter and we were so excited because we were experiencing such great economic times and had the Student Opportunity Act coming,” said Abeyta. “We were planning for a budget and the SOA and it was exciting because it was the first year we weren’t going to see cuts and we could add and build up the district.”
Now, two months later the district has had its budget hearings, and it has resulted in a level-funded, $96 million, budget that doesn’t cover any cost of living raises or other costs and featured a $2.8 million shortfall.
Abeyta said they have cut Central Office positions and other areas to try to avoid and reductions in teaching positions.
“We ended up creating a budget where there is no reduction in workforce,” she said. “Overwhelmingly, the comments we received were positive because we kept classroom instruction intact as much as possible.”
School Committee Chair Kelly Garcia said this second budget was created with sorrow.
“Chelsea is considered the most vulnerable city in Massachusetts as a result of COVID-19,” she said. “This pandemic has exacerbated the inequities that our students and families have faced for decades. Our superintendent Dr. Abeyta, Central Office team, School Committee members, teachers, students and community members created this budget with deep sorrow and pain as we had to recreate a budget that reflected the crisis around us. When we originally planned for school year 2020-2021 in the year 2020, we were filled with joy and hope, a first for us in a while, because the Student Opportunity Act had just been voted into law. Principals, staff and students were extremely happy to find out that Chelsea Public Schools were no longer experiencing budget cuts next school year. Then, the crisis came, and we had no choice but to make some difficult decisions.”
She said while the excitement may not have come in this budget, she is confident that time will come.
“While we may not have the resources to launch new initiatives at this time, this budget aligns to our vision as outlined in the district’s strategic plan,” she said. “Additionally, this budget provides the financial resources to execute our strategy to prioritize social and emotional supports, meet our goals, and stay true to our vision. I will remain hopeful and will continue to advocate for adequate funding for Chelsea Public Schools.”
Abeyta said there was so much work put into what people and staff and students wanted as a priority, and that was reflected in many hours of work to put together a plan for money that now is not coming.
That has been a downer for the staff in the Chelsea Public Schools, but Abeyta said she has told them the work is not for nothing. She said the plan will be ready for when better times come around. “We will get our funding, but it might not be this year,” she said. “The plan is prepared and we are ready as soon as the funding comes in.”