Extra school funding denied by Lincoln voters

Extra school funding denied by Lincoln voters

Town employee Dave Sale passes a box to collect the first round of paper ballots as town residents vote on the School Department's proposed budget increase of $243,000 at the Lincoln Financial Town Meeting, at Lincoln High School, Monday. (Valley Breeze photos by Bill Murphy)
Alternate plan for overcrowding to be presented Monday

LINCOLN - Parents who campaigned for a $500,000 increase to the school budget to combat overcrowded elementary school classes left the four-hour Financial Town Meeting Monday night empty-handed as voters decided $51.1 million was enough to educate the town's children.

Without that extra funding, the future of those classes is still teetering. Supt. Georgia Fortunato said Tuesday that her team would have to head back to the drawing board to see if they can come up with at least $200,000 to keep two full-time teachers and two teacher assistants in Central Elementary School and Lonsdale Elementary School from being laid off.

She said a decision is expected to be made by the School Committee meeting on Monday, May 19, at 7 p.m. at Lincoln Middle School.

"It is of paramount importance for me and the School Committee to reduce class size," Fortunato said, adding that she appreciates the support received by the town. "This is my major priority."

Fortunato said she was disappointed by the 231-173 vote that killed the resident petition, especially after she, Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond, and members of the School Committee and Budget Board had reached an informal agreement to support amending the half-million dollar increase to $200,000.

School Committee member Kristine Donabedian was the first to the microphone to offer the amendment and explain to residents that the other funds originally included in the petition for the self-insured medical claims line were taken care of through an agreement that a supplemental increase would be proposed next year should the claim line cause the school budget to default.

But even with that concession, what transpired was far from simple. Hours of passionate testimony and two secret ballot votes later, democracy was certainly alive and well in Lincoln, and so was the tedium that can often tag along.

First up to muddy the waters was a $43,000 amendment to the $200,000 addition, added by a resident who sought to save the job of a part-time social worker at Lincoln High School whose position was eliminated in the School Committee's proposed budget earlier this year.

Then came the succession of votes. On the petition alone, residents had to vote to amend $500,000 to $200,000, then to amend that to $243,000, then to make $243,000 the main motion.

It was that motion that was finally defeated.

Peppered in to the general sense of confusion were questions of whether the $500,000 was ever part of its own motion, and why residents were seemingly voting repeatedly on the same point.

Impatience grew as residents twice called the question, halting discussions. One woman felt the wrath of more than 400 of her neighbors as they shouted "No!" at her when she approached the microphone for a quick point-of-order clarification.

While it increased the petition amount to only a fraction of the school's $51.1 million proposed budget, the $43,000 amendment that replaced $200,000 in a vote of 235-227 forced residents and officials to shine a spotlight on the fact that the town only approves a bottom line budget for the schools.

"What we're voting on is funds, not how the funds are going to be spent," said resident Leo Tetreault. "That additional money is not going to be spent any way that the school department doesn't want to spend it."

The school department is not obligated to use that $43,000 for a social worker, officials confirmed, effectively prompting a change in the discourse from a promise to use specific funds to add teachers in overcrowded schools into a more philosophical question of the worth of educational investments.

Retirees talked about funding an increase in education while they live on fixed incomes. One woman questioned why those without school children should have to see their taxes increase for a larger education budget.

"We just can't keep giving and giving and giving and giving," said former Town Councilor Ronald McKenna. "I would expect our School Committee to take the lead on keeping the costs down ... and not just rubber stamp everything presented to them by school administrators."

Teachers and parents spoke to the needs of the kids and commended educators for working with limited resources.

"The teachers I know that I work with give 110 percent," said Lincoln Middle School special educator Tom Mellen. "We are maxed out."

He said students are not the same ones he went to school with 20 years ago, and that with changing times, and traumatic stories in the news, kids need additional supports.

Mary Ann McComiskey, the full-time social worker at LHS whose position was not in jeopardy, said she had "a morally ethical obligation" to speak for keeping her part-time counterpart.

"We are not going to be able to meet the needs of the students in the town of Lincoln with this reduction," she said, calling the cut "detrimental" and "a disaster waiting to happen."

While McComiskey said she will be the only licensed mental health care provider in the district, Fortunato told The Breeze the cut was made after discussions with the LHS principal and district student services director because Lincoln already has a full-time psychologist, a full-time social worker, a full-time student adjustment counselor and a full guidance department staff.

After the meeting, Donabedian said that while she respects the fair and democratic process, "It is unfortunate that a worthy effort to alleviate overcrowded classrooms was obstructed by an attempt to restore a part-time position deemed unnecessary by the superintendent and eliminated by unanimous vote of the School Committee."

Budget Board member William McManus spoke of efficiency in the school budget Monday night, comparing it to challenges faced in the private sector.

"The problem is, we don't make boxes, we don't make automobiles, we don't make computers," LMS special educator Mellen said.

Resident Joseph Goho, also principal at North Providence High School, said the school department had acted efficiently by closing Fairlawn School years ago and reducing teaching staff by 30 over the past decade.

"With all due respect for the gentleman looking for a slight reduction in his tax bill," Goho said, "the 6- and 7-year-olds and 5-year-olds sitting in classes with 25 kids are probably looking for a slight reduction in their class size."

Nathan Green, father to a student in one of the overcrowded Central kindergarten classes, said that while he would vote for the additional funding, "it just seems crazy" that the money could not be found in the existing $51.1 million budget, especially when administrators are receiving raises.

"I think the $200,000 will be found if it does not pass," he said. "I am confident the School Committee will find the funds."

Lincoln Finance Director John Ward, left, and Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond react to the confusion over the vote on the School Department's proposed budget increase of $243,000 at the FTM Monday night. (Valley Breeze photo by Bill Murphy)
Mary Ann McComIskey, a social worker at Lincoln High School, speaks in favor of the proposed School Department budget increase. (Valley Breeze photo by Bill Murphy)
School Superintendent Georgia Fortunato, left, and Lori Miller, school department business manager, react as the School Department's proposed budget increase of $243,000 is voted down 281-173 at the Lincoln Financial Town Meeting, at Lincoln High School Monday evening. (Valley Breeze photo by Bill Murphy)

Comments

Why is there not a call for a complete and thorough audit of the School Departments funds? Lots of different numbers being tossed around. Do they have to keep such large surpluses on hand because they can not maintain a proper budget?

In response to the above comment:
As explained by the school committee chair, the surplus was restricted for anticipated expenses. Further the Town Administrator has obligated the school committee to fund mayoral academies in the sum of at least 2 million dollars for this year alone.
Putting things in perspective, the Administrative budget is carrying a 6 million dollar surplus.
What is most concerning is that the Budget Board, Town Administrator, along with the School Committee could not come to terms prior to the Financial Town Meeting. I also question why they reached an agreement prior to the FTM for 200,000 and not prior for budget submittal? Further after the rejection of 243,000, why did they not move for reconsideration for the approval of 200,000 as they agreed?
It is terribly concerning that all the elected and appointed officials involved failed in meeting a consensus on handling the elementary overcrowding problem.
In the end, it was not the resolution that had failed, it was our elected officials. Particularly with Town Administrator Almond for removing the funds from the school committee budget, only later agreeing to add the 200,000 needed.
It is abundantly clear the Town Administrator needs to make good on this issue.

The school committee is SCREAMING that the "sky is falling" because they are not getting .oo4 percent of their total budget +200,000/51,100,000. GIVE ME A BREAK.
These jerks have been pulling this crap for 30 years. Enough is enough!! Not one penny more. Its not a money problem - its a UNION problem. The teacher unions (and teachers) only give a damn about the buck in their back pocket. wake up folks. Its not about the kids welfare. Its about the TEACHERS welfare.

How is it possible to have overcrowding in a school system that is showing declining enrollment.
The highly compensated administration loves to blames the charter school for any problems in the district,but without them wouldn't there be more overcrowding?
Is the Superintendent incapable of coming up with intelligent solutions to seemingly minor issues with the generous funds she has been given.

There is no overcrowding. The Kindergarten Class in Central has 5 children in self contained and one in resource. Both Regular Classrooms for K at Central have 21 students. The also have an aide. Just about every classroom in Lincoln is below the student/teacher ratio called for in the Teacher's Contract.

Lincoln1 since you are representing the School Administration why are you hiding behind a screen name? Again and again the blame for the out of control spending is placed on either the Town Administrator or the Mayoral Academy. Since you represent the district explain why the front office and administrators compensation is out of control in comparison with other districts. I know the answer to this but I am interested to hear your justification for this.

And as for your response you gave no explanation as to why a thorough review of the school departments finances are not needed.

In response to Ms. Roberts:
For clarification I do not represent the school administration in any form.
In addition: It is rightfully so that the extra financial problems that have a direct burden on the school system are in fact the Town Administrators Mayoral Academies, where of note the Town Administrator serves as an executive board member for the mayoral academy. Who also in fact reduced the school committee budget while funding his budget completely without debate or transparently!
Further the Town Administrator supported the extra 200,000 resolution. So I ask why no one is questioning a 2 million dollar budget for the mayoral academy without transparency.
It is critical that the people of Lincoln understand that the creation of this mayoral academy was done illegally by the Town Administrator. At no time was there ever a public hearing, public vote, or charter change obligating tax payers money for Mayoral academies. (Big Picture)!!
It is not about the teachers unions, it’s about the letter of law!
Now for your concerns on compensation with the administrator, I feel it is up to the town council to correct the problem. However they choose not to!
Lastly I never suggested that a review of the school finances were not needed!
If a complete review was to take place, it would be up to the town council to do it! However that would constitute a full forensic audit that would not only cover the school finances but also the town administrators. (And they don`t want that)!!
It might show the millions of dollars the Administrator has moved without voter approval, or the extra pension he gives himself, or the 3 million dollars bonded out without voter approval, and the list goes on!!
All of the public officials in town are either ignorant, corrupt, and or arrogant into thinking they can handle the job at hand!