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North Suburban News

Woburn Able to Close School Budget Deficit

May 03, 2019 12:02AM ● By Dan Marra

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WOBURN – The Woburn School district will be able to avoid major cuts in service next year as the city council and the mayor’s office agreed to increase the school budget by approximately $1 million. Just weeks after announcing a projected $2 million shortfall, Mayor Scott Galvin informed the school department that the city will increase the school funding for the next fiscal year.

“We’re not pleased about the situation,” Galvin said. “The members of the city council aren’t happy about where we find ourselves, but since I’ve become mayor we’ve had a real commitment around our schools. We’re here to solve the problem and move the schools forward.”

The School Committee found out a month ago, and just days after agreeing to a new contract with the Woburn Teachers Association, that there were a significant gap in next year’s school budget.

“We need to better understand these issues,” said School Committee member John Wells. “There was no communication with the finance subcommittee. We know out of district tuition is always over but there was no highlighting that there was a real problem going on. Until a month ago had no idea there was a problem with this budget.”

According to Superintendent Matt Crowley, it was in November and December of 2018 that the school department became aware of a potential discrepancy in out of district tuition for special education students.

“There was an unfortunate miscalculation with regard to out of district special education funding,” Superintendent Crowley said.

Over the last two years, the school committee had voted to level fund special education costs at $4.2 million a year. In 2016 and 2017, special education was funded at a slightly higher $4.5 million. The actual cost of special education in 2016 was $4.8 million $4.5 million in 2017. However, in 2018, special education costs skyrocketed to $5.3 million and in fiscal year 2019 which ends on June 30, the projected costs are higher still at more than $6 million.

Even with the increase in budget, the school department still faces a $1 million shortfall. However, according to Superintendent Crowley, there will be no layoffs in teachers and the district will move forward with the increase in art and music programs next year.

Instead, the district will close the budget gap through a variety of adjustments - some retired positions will not be filled, new teachers will be hired on Step 3, instead of the traditional Step 5, and the district will look to its revolving account to help cover additional positions. The city gets its revolving account from renting out the building and traditionally those funds have gone to building repairs, like new water heaters, for example.

“That makes me nervous,” School Committee member Patricia Chisholm said about the use of the revolving account.

While disaster has been averted for next school year, it’s unclear if the increase in funding will continue beyond just this next budget.

“We’ve seen the greatest progress in our schools in this past year,” said School Committee member Ellen Crowley. “We cannot run a public school system on a 3.5 percent increase every year. We’re under-funded every year. And we’re finally started to move in the right direction and get positions that every other district has. We need to keep moving forward.”

The School Committee will be holding a public hearing on the budget on Monday, May 6 at 7 p.m.

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