School reaction mostly positive

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School officials this week reacted positively, but cautiously, on learning Mayor Scott Avedisian’s proposed budget for the 2017/2018 fiscal year would hike funding to schools by $4.1 million, up to $165,238,442 from last year’s $161,135,284. Avedisian said the proposed increase would “reverse a trend of level funding of schools that has been occurring in past years.”

Superintendent Philip Thornton, whose proposed budget was $167 million, was enthusiastic about the mayor’s proposal.

“The mayor's recommended increase of $4.1 million to the school department budget for FY 18 is greatly appreciated. Technology, student transportation, and staffing for next year will all be supported with an increase in local support,” Thornton said. He added that $2.4 million is earmarked for the teacher's contract; if approved in the budget process, these funds would be held for that purpose, he said.

School Committee Member David Testa had similar sentiments.

“I'm very encouraged by the mayor's commitment to our schools as reflected in this figure. Our needs are real and documented,” he said on Tuesday. “I think that our total 'ask' amounts to roughly .05 cents per $1000 of assessed value, so based on a home assessed at $200K, we're asking for $10 [per household].”

On Wednesday, Testa added that he received “clarification” on the figure, which he said also figured in state aid and would be a $3.1 million rather than $4.1 million proposed increase from city appropriation.

“The picture's changed somewhat but on the whole, I'm still encouraged by the effort,” he said.  

In her comments on the proposed increase, Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh referenced the 31 teachers who were laid off at the last School Committee meeting.

"If the mayor is submitting a budget that includes almost all of what Dr. Phil [Thornton] is requesting, then Dr. Phil has no excuse to cut any program or teachers since he claimed that the only reason these programs and positions were on the chopping block is that he was afraid of being level funded," she said.

Now, she said, “we'll ascertain Dr. Phil's credibility" based on whether those who were laid off get recalled to their positions.

As for the mayor being involved in mediation, Netcoh said, “We appreciate any help we can get in making the School Department and School Committee see reason and negotiate a successive CBA that is educationally sound.” The next date for mediation is May 23, and Netcoh noted Attorney Vincent Ragosta would be present at the session as well.

Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci said that “on the front end,” he is “very pleased that the mayor is supportive of the schools and recognizing the direction we're going in.”

“We're really grateful that he's adding $3 million in local support,” he said.

However, “While the support is significant it does leave us with a funding gap of $1.7 [million]. The reason why is the Superintendent and I are supportive of setting aside $2.4 of that $3 million in anticipation of settling the contract with the teacher's union,” he said.

The shortfall is if the budget is passed as the mayor recommends, Ferrucci said, “It will result in the elimination of programs and/or staff and possibly delay implementation of some initiatives.”

Ferrucci said the school department is still planning on presenting the School Committee recommended budget seeking an additional $4.8 million in city funding to the City Council.

School Committee Vice Chair Eugene Nadeau didn’t want to offer comment on the proposed increase as he said Wednesday was the first he had heard of it. School Committee Chair Beth Furtado, Clerk Terri Medeiros, and Member Karen Bachus did not respond to requests for comment.

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