The School Committee passed a $95.4 million School Budget last week, but it was passed with less than a majority of the total number of nine committee seats.
The budget, which passed with a $1.9 million funding gap that led to the elimination of 10 teaching positions, was approved by a 4-2 vote.
School Committee members Rosemarie Carlisle and Frank DePatto voted against the budget, while board member Jeanette Velez and Chair Richard Maronski recused themselves from the vote, citing relatives who work for the School Department. Last week, Julio Hernandez resigned from the Committee and his seat has yet to be filled.
School Committee members and administrators said it has been a long struggle to present a budget that attempts to meet the needs of the Chelsea schools.
Supt. Mary Bourque and City Manager Thomas Ambrosino were among those who noted that falling enrollments in the Chelsea schools, as well as an antiquated state funding formula that underfunds urban communities such as Chelsea, were the main culprits in the budget cuts.
“I’ve spent a lot of the time with the superintendent trying to provide city support for the budget,” said Ambrosino. “The City is really trying to do its fair share.”
That included the City providing an additional $1.5 million to the schools to address budget shortfalls.
“Every new tax dollar I can raise in Fiscal Year 2020 is going to the School Department,” said the city manager.
Regardless of how the School Committee ended up voting on the budget, Ambrosino said the $95.5 million figure is the figure he would present to the City Council as the school share of the overall City Budget.
“The budget (Bourque) presented is fair and reasonable,” said Ambrosino.
Once the budget is approved, Ambrosino said attention should be turned towards advocating for change to the Chapter 70 state education funding formula on Beacon Hill.
Bourque said she agreed that the time is now to fix the state funding formula, noting that Chelsea schools will be underfunded $17 million by the state.
The other factor leading to cuts in the budget is falling enrollment, Bourque said. Between January of 2018 and January of this year, she said Chelsea schools have lost 217 students. That is part of a larger trend of falling enrollment over nearly a decade, according to the superintendent.
Carlisle voted against the proposed budget, but said the problem with the $95.4 million figure laid not with the City, but with the state.
“The problem is with the state,” said Carlisle. “They are not doing the right thing, and we have to send them a message.”
School Committee member Ana Hernandez backed the budget, but said it wasn’t a decision made lightly.
“The votes we make are very hard,” she said. “This budget is what we dread every year. We have to make a decision for the best of the entire school system.”
But for DePatto, further cuts to teaching positions was a bridge too far to support the FY ‘20 budget. He said the schools laid off seven teachers in 2017, 20 in 2018, 10 in 2019, and have projected another 10 for 2020.
“Forty seven teachers and 25 paraprofessionals,” he said. “When is it going to stop? I can’t vote for this budget (when) I don’t support these cuts.”
School Committee member Yessenia Alfaro-Alvarez voted in support of the budget, stating that it was in the best interest of the City’s students to pass the budget, and also noting that Chelsea is hamstrung by declining enrollments and inequities in the state funding formula.
•In other business, the Committee voted to forgo School Choice for the 2019-20 school year.
•The School Committee also approved a field trip to New York City for high school and middle school REACH students to participate in the Andover Bread Loaf Writing Conference in May.