As of about 9:30 last night–after nearly nine hours of debate over two evenings, plus countless hours of committee meetings beforehand–the City Council voted to scrape ~$1.1M out of various line items in the Mayor’s FY24 operating budget and put that money back into the school budget

With the addition of ~$300k and change that the Mayor came up with, that fills the $1.5M gap between what the superintendent and the School Cmte asked for and what the Mayor requested.

The final vote was unanimous and most of the councilors mentioned in their remarks immediately preceding the final vote that this decision reflected the clear and overwhelming will of the community. Councilor Bullock (P5) mentioned that she had received over 300 emails calling to fully fund the school budget, a record for her.

Multiple councilors mentioned during the discussions and debate that these are all trade-offs and that we are taking calculated risks to prioritize funding the schools. Several councilors also noted that broader funding concerns remain–especially next year as various grant sources dry up–and that the community needs to work with the state to adjust the funding formulas.

Another thread that surfaced late in the discussion was around the request originally put forward by the superintendent–that it had already had a number of items cut out of it–and also that the City Council had received no capital requests from the school department. By law, the Council can only cut money from the budget or move it around within the budget; they cannot add any money to the budget. That would need to be requested via a financial order from the mayor.

At one point, Council President Dan Guin (At-Large) pressed the superintendent on something she had said at a previous presentation about how she could probably cut another $625k out of the school budget request “without impact.” He was clearly trying to look for ways the Council could reduce the amount of money they were pulling from other parts of the budget to fund the schools.

What became clear in the back-and-forth that ensued was that the phrase “without impact” did not mean that there was $625k of fluff in the budget. It meant that the schools could not fill a number of open positions (backfills for retirements) and understaff a number of elective classes with via staff rotation and a juggling of schedules.

It seems like years of underfunding by the city have left our school department with a bare-minimum, “We’ll figure out some way to get by” mindset. It’s understandable, given the conditions under which they have had to operate, and I don’t mean to criticize them; they’re doing the best they can, given the circumstances. What is clear is that it is now on the community to figure out how to change those circumstances.