COVID-19 Impacts on our School Budget as of May 31st
The School Committee held a special meeting on May 27th to discuss budget impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The City’s auditor and Finance Director were both on hand to provide an update.
We unanimously voted to sign a Resolution jointly with the City Council requesting the Federal Government make stimulus/relief available to cities and towns during this COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration will be delivered to our federal delegation.
CARES Act Funding
School Specific Funding
Medford’s schools received $668,052. Through the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funds. Medford is required to provide $30,372.73 to St. Joseph’s School, $37,039.92 to St. Raphael’s school, and $67,412.65 to a myriad of private schools. This leaves a balance of $600,639.35.
In addition to school-specific funding, the City of Medford received $5,093,008 to address COVID-19 related expenses. This money can be used in a variety of ways INCLUDING for education-related expenses due to COVID-19. The program has clear rules for spending that are as follows:
“Necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to...COVID-19” (Funds may not be used to substitute for lost revenue)
Not budgeted as of March 27, 2020, when the CARES act was enacted (May not supplant state or municipal spending)
Incurred on or after March 1, 20020, up to December 30, 2020
No spending decisions were made at this meeting. The administration highlighted their initial thoughts that the lion’s share of the money will be used to equip all students with Chromebooks and to provide limited support for internet hotspots. Medford needs 2200 devices to achieve this objective. When we consider the real possibilities of school next year, this is certainly essential. The $600,639 is actually not enough to achieve this goal, because we are too far away from a 1 to 1 ratio of students to Chromebooks. I motioned that the administration will provide us recommendations around additional spending related to COVID-19 for consideration including professional development, teacher technology, proper resourcing of hotspots, and student technology. The motion passed unanimously. The city is able to spend any amount of its $5M on school-related expenses. Both pools of CARES act funding may be used on education-related expenses that meet the above-listed criteria.
Our city Finance Director, Aleesha Nunley-Benjamin, and our auditor, Tony Rosselle, provided an update. The outlook has not changed since our first meeting with Mr. Roselle. In terms of city revenues:
According to the Governor’s proposed budget, Medford is scheduled to get $26.6 million in state aid. $12.2 million of that amount is designated for schools. His projection assumes a 20% DECREASE in state aid which translates to a $5 million loss.
Building permit revenue in Medford is usually forecasted at $4 million annually. Right now permits are being issued on an emergency basis only. The auditor is working with the building department to confirm anticipated activity and revenue, but his analysis assumes a $2 million decrease.
Excise taxes will be down 10% as new car sales have seen a sharp decline.
Hotels and meals taxes will be down approximately 25% for the year due to closure from March to May (one fiscal quarter). This means a $1 million decrease.
Other revenues are projected to be down $0.8 million.
In total, he’s projecting an $8.2 million decrease in revenue.
He’s also projecting an increase in fixed expenses to cover pension, debt service, and healthcare costs. Fixed expenses will increase by $3 million. Our deficit through this loss of revenue and an increase of fixed costs is approximately $11 million according to his analysis.
I will refrain from further summarizing the meeting itself. It was a passionate discussion among people who care deeply about our students. We do not always agree and that’s OK. You can watch the meeting here.
The list of ‘Items that Improve Student Outcomes’
This list came up during the meeting. We had a passionate discussion regarding calling it a wish list. I’ll admit that even I slipped into this ‘air quotes’ style name for it. As a reminder, here is how the list was developed.
“Identify 3-5 items, initiatives, personnel, or costs that, if prioritized during the budget process, would positively impact student achievement that are in addition to the requested budget presented. List a brief description and estimated cost for each. Think big, or small. Nothing is off the table in this section.”
It is clear that we are not positioned financially for new things. But the fact is that many items on this list are things that our students need. We currently live without them, but that doesn’t mean they are not needed. The list as I’ve captured it stands at $7.715 million. There are some costs that might represent one-time costs but very few. There are also costs that truly are ‘nice to have’ wishes. I made this motion so broad because I wanted our administrators to be inspired to tell us what they envision for our students. I share this list with you, not so that you will identify which item here or there we may not need, but rather so you can see the cumulative list of things our department leaders say we do not have right now. I also share it because I believe that the public should be clear on these needs. Only when we all operate on the same set of facts, requests, wishes, and wants, can we as a community decide how to move forward.
As I personally have reflected on this list, one thing I’ve noted is just how remarkable our district is. Do we have work to do? Yes. But isn’t it remarkable that our talented and dedicated team has produced successful graduates for years? Medford is a HOT place to live, and that doesn’t happen in a district that isn’t showing remarkable results. Our teachers are smart, and they do more with less every day. Our administrators wear many hats (too many I’d argue) and keep us moving forward. Our city is full of volunteers who step in and fill gaps in all kinds of ways. Our PTOs raise well north of 100K every year, while extracurricular organizations and community groups do similar things to support our youngest residents. But in all of this amazing work, I have to stop and think about what we could do with all of this support if we were properly resourced. WOW. And surely there is some middle ground between today and this ‘nirvana.’ A middle ground that is not just achievable, but also realistic, with the right plan. The truth is that our teams of volunteers can’t fill the gaps listed below, so we as a district need to find ways to make progress on this list. CLICK HERE TO REVIEW THE LIST. (It didn't play nicely with this blog because of its size.)
Your call to action: Pay attention to the budget discussions as it unfolds in the month of June. There are deep cuts being discussed that will be detrimental to our schools. Please reach out if you'd like to meet (email@example.com). Please also share this blog with friends and neighbors who want to be informed about our schools. Subscribing to the newsletter will ensure you receive these updates as I post them.
Jenny Graham is a member of the Medford School Committee. This blog represents her thoughts on issues of interest and does not reflect any official position of the City of Medford or the Medford School Committee. Meeting minutes, which are the public record of all meetings can be found here. Full recordings of meetings of the School Committee can be found here.