City Council review of Mayor Scott Avedisian’s proposed $283 million budget starts tonight at 6 and continues tomorrow and Thursday at the same time.
If previous hearings are a guide, this year’s review promises to be at times tedious and seemingly dealing with minuscule matters, at other times, enlightening and even humorous.
As the council opens with a review of the school budget, tonight’s hearing also has the potential of being contentious. City Council President Donna Travis, as well as other council members, have expressed their displeasure with the school department, especially over the condition of the Potowomut School when it was handed over to the city. In the words of some who have toured the premises, the building was used as a “storage dump” for unwanted books and equipment.
Shameful enough, but let’s not get distracted.
The real issue is how much are the council and mayor prepared to spend on schools? More properly, how much are these elected officials willing to have taxpayers spend on the system?
The School Committee and the school administration evidently aim to show support for their $160.6 million spending package by packing Council Chambers. That may help their cause, but we feel schools would be better off defining and explaining their choices.
At this point, as Mayor Scott Avedisian has proposed, we don’t know what level funding will mean for the school program. Seeing that some members of the committee don’t even know what level funding would mean, we doubt that will be discussed.
As Superintendent Richard D’Agostino has said, the committee has reviewed the budget and they have determined that it contains what is required. There isn’t a fallback position. Should schools not receive their full request, will the committee return to wrestle with cuts?
That hasn’t been the tack of other department directors. If council members ask about cuts in their departments, they’ll get answers as to what they would choose to eliminate in the way of services.
In going into tonight’s hearing, schools would do well to consider the same approach. Choices are best made on sound comparable information. The council and the taxpayers deserve to know what schools would cut if its budget request is not fully funded.