New Bedford schools are spared worst-case scenario but still face elimination of 200 jobs

Thanks to a reversal by the City Council, New Bedford will not have to close elementary schools and eliminate its school athletics program, but it will still have to cut 200 jobs, reports Natalie Sherman of the Standard-Times (story behind paywall).

In one of this year’s most contentious budget fights, the New Bedford City Council had threatened to cut $4 million from the school department’s $109 million budget for fiscal 2014, with councilors expressing frustration over the department’s deficit this past year. The $4 million cut would have brought New Bedford well below the foundation budget required by the state as part of its Chapter 70 local aid program.

Earlier this week the Standard-Times published a strong editorial warning that the $4 million budget cut could lead to a takeover of the schools by the state. The editorial stated, “The City Council cannot help but see that its prescription for holding the school department accountable would be a lethal dose to the city’s effort to improve public education.”

The City Council met on Wednesday night and restored the $4 million on the condition that it be granted more oversight over spending on schools. From the Standard-Times:

The promise comes after the School Committee voted to direct its Finance Committee to meet regularly with three councilors about school spending, a gesture some School Committee members called “an olive branch” to councilors.

“It was never our intent to keep that money from them but, in fact, to find a mechanism to have oversight so we don’t have this issue again,” said City Council President Bruce Duarte, referring to a $3.5 million deficit the School Department incurred during the fiscal 2013 year.

Even with the restored spending, however, New Bedford public schools face a tough year ahead. The city is expected to eliminate 200 jobs from the schools this year, through attrition and 150 layoffs. The School Committee has already asked for another $400,000 to retain 10 art, music, and elementary school teachers, but the City Council has not yet acted on that request.

For more coverage of fiscal 2014 school budgets in the Gateway Cities, see our earlier posts here and here.

                    – Robert David Sullivan

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