Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Resolution
On Tuesday, June 29th, 2020, the School Committee held a public budget hearing to review and consider the Fiscal Year 21 budget. To summarize, the city allocated $61,250,000 to Medford Public Schools. Due to contractual obligations for rate increases and cost of living adjustments this funding amount forced the Superintendent to lay out a budget that makes $3.5 million in budget cuts. The Committee approved, by a vote of 7-0, a memo outlining our process, the decisions made, and the strategic outlook for Medford Public Schools. This memo has been delivered to the City Council and can be found here. I am proud to have largely authored this memo and thank my colleagues for the support of this effort. The work we’ve done since January to clearly outline what our district needs is unprecedented. So, too, are the results. Our funding gap is over $9 million. While the gap grew as a result of the pandemic and resulting budget cuts, the gap existed long before these cuts. Our children deserve better, and I feel good about the fact that we can all agree on this notion.
The budget was approved by a vote of 5-2. I did not vote in favor of the budget. During the meeting I shared my thoughts on why. Here is a written version of my comments:
I want to thank the Superintendent and her team. The budget is never easy but this year the budget alone has been exceptionally hard, and on top of that, you had to address a radical shift in how we educate children. We are playing with our hands tied behind our backs because we don’t know what state aid will look like, whether federal relief is coming, and what the COVID pandemic has in store for our economy. As employees of the district, you don’t get the luxury to simply refuse to cut. You have to make the plans and do the painstaking work. You had to notify 111 pre-professional status teachers of their pink-slips only to turn around and begin the callback process as allowed by the budget. Being the chief executive officer of anything isn’t easy, but doing so under these conditions would tax anybody in this unenviable position. What you’ve laid out in my mind is the least bad option. And I want to reiterate this. It is the least bad option.
And this is where Medford needs to step in and say that our kids deserve better. I’ve heard from folks for weeks about the things that they see as critical and the truth is it’s all critical. We heard from folks tonight about a slew of things we can’t afford to cut, and it’s really the tip of the iceberg. I want to thank the City Council for suggesting additional use of free cash to support our schools and will be watching the proceedings tomorrow carefully. The how of more money is not the purview of this committee, but I am proud of the work we’ve done to shine a light on our needs as a district in this joint memo. Our needs are now well documented and clear.
As a resident, I will support any and all actions by our Mayor to prioritize our schools and raise revenue. She has my full support should she and the Council determine that a Proposition 2 ½ override is required. It is my hope that every person who has voiced concern about these cuts will stand with our Mayor on this as well.
But as it stands, this budget allocation has cut our district too deep for a regular school year. But we are not headed into a regular school year. We are headed into a pandemic school year, where school will be $1-$1.5 million more to operate. This allocation just simply isn’t enough.
There was lots of discussion about this budget, as you probably know. I believe we all agree that the allocation is not enough. I respect my colleagues tremendously and know that how each voted on this budget doesn't change our collective agreement that our schools and students need more. The vote to approve the budget was a vote I've been thinking about since the pandemic started actually. During the meeting, I also shared that for me, the guiding factor for my vote was the future.
We talked about financial responsibility, and for me, it is the key to the future. For me, fiscal responsibility means that when you are forced to make a decision that means deep cuts to our schools, you immediately work to do better. Being financially responsible means that you not only make the decision, but you immediately put in place a plan to make sure you don't have to make the same decision again. And frankly, there is nothing that tells me we won't be right back here one year from now talking about cutting music, athletics, art, and computer because we've got nothing left to cut. We can't just think about financial responsibility tonight in the context of this vote and then go home and feel good that we made the hard decisions. We need to have a plan for the future of our district, and we don't right now. We are looking forward to another year of uncertainty, and another year of not knowing what kind of state and federal funding will come. But we do know things about what is going on in Medford right now. We know that the schools have $9 million in unmet needs. We know that nearly every department said they were doing more with less. We do know that Medford has the power to raise revenue. While this body cannot increase revenue, as a city, we can. This body has done its due diligence to tell the community what the unmet need is.
In the meeting, I stated that for me to get to yes, I need an answer for how we address the fact that we have $9 million of unmet needs. What is the plan to not perpetually have 9m in unmet need? What is the plan to ensure that we aren't leaving elementary schools without Tier 2 reading specialists again next year? Until we can have an honest discussion about that 9m list, we are not fiscally responsible. We are kicking the can down the road. Kicking the can down the road is not financially responsible now, and it never will be.
The budget passed 5-2. I voted no. I will continue to push for the plan I described above and to be clear and transparent about the steps I am taking to do so. There is no hidden agenda here. I want the very best for our 4200 students, our teachers, our paraprofessionals, and the rest of our staff. When we invest in education the entire community improves. I look forward to any good funding news the city may receive from state and federal sources and any other avenues for additional allocations to our schools. We will turn our attention to a safe re-opening of schools in September and there is a lot of work ahead.
I want to thank the Superintendent and her team for their tireless work on this budget and our district. I want to congratulate our retirees and wish them well in their future endeavors. I want to thank my colleagues in city government for their passion and dedication. I want to thank our teachers who have poured their hearts and souls into distance learning because they are committed to our students. I want to thank the community for their support and their unprecedented involvement in city government. After all, the city government and education belong to all of us.
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.