The City Council held its annual joint meeting with the School Committee to discuss the school district’s proposed $132 million school budget for Fiscal Year 2024.
The budget is about $14 million above the current school year’s budget, thanks in large part to the state’s Student Opportunity Act which sees a greater influx of Chapter 70 funds for districts that have been traditionally underfunded by the state, such as Chelsea.
“From 2021, 22, and 23, we have begun to see the money set aside as part of the Student Opportunity Act,” said Monica Lamboy, the school district’s Executive Director of Administration and Finance. “These are funds that Chelsea and other communities around the state worked hard to have the legislature fund for us. It more accurately reflects low-income students and their needs and ELL (English language learner) students.”
More than 40 new positions across the district schools and central office are included in the budget. The budget also moves 20 positions that have been funded through federal ESSER Covid relief funds to the general operating budget next year.
One of the main points of discussion with the council was the potential for an “ESSER cliff,” with 40 positions still being funded with those federal relief funds, which are set to expire in September of 2024, in the coming budget.
Lamboy discussed a number of the factors driving the budget, including student needs and enrollment.
Overall enrollment has been on the rise, and the numbers have been especially felt at the high school, Lamboy said. In addition, there has been a slow increase in the number of special education students and a more rapid increase of ELL students in the district.
Current enrollment is at 6,280 students, which is higher than it has been since before the Covid pandemic.
“All of these factors, in terms of enrollment and student needs, flows into the revenue forecast, the revenue that the state forecasts for us,” said Lamboy.
Deputy Superintendent of Schools Dr. Adam Deleidi said the budget priorities focus on strengthening and expanding equity for students through social-emotional support and curriculum development support.
“We’re trying to accelerate literacy and math learning, and we’re trying to reduce teacher-to-student ratios, as well as teacher recruitment and retention,” said Deleidi.
Councilor Norieliz DeJesus asked what was being done to improve the student-teacher ratio in classrooms.
Lamboy noted that there are space constraints within the school district that make it difficult to create new classrooms. However, she said the district is taking steps to add additional adults in the classrooms, such as aides and paraprofessionals, so that the students can more easily be broken out into smaller groups within the classrooms.
“It sounds like there are a lot of positions that we added, and I’m all for it, we need it and we’ve been underfunded for a long time,” said Councilor Damali Vidot. “But I do have some questions about what happens when that emergency money runs out, and I’m wondering if it is expected that the Student Opportunity Act will fund these new positions that you are putting in, or if there will be a point after Sept. 20, 2024 where you are coming back to this City Council and saying we an an additional big lump of change that we may not have?”
Lamboy said that was a fundamental question that the school administration has been working to address.
“We have added reading specialists and math specialists and other important positions, and we don’t necessarily want to lose all of them,” said Lamboy. “So this year’s expenditure recommendations are taking into account that next year we are going to have an additional probably 40 positions that are going to have to figure out did we get the value we hoped for when we first funded the positions? If we are, those will be the highest priorities and in order to stay where we are today, those positions need to continue to be funded.”