Plan hatched to avoid teacher layoffs

WESTFIELD – A City Council member, speaking during public participation at the School Committee session last night, not only promised not to cut funding from the School Department budget, he committed himself to working with the administration to close a $860,000 budget gap without the need to lay off teachers and staff members.
The district sent non-renewal notifications to 23 teachers last week and 10 more notices to paraprofessionals this week.
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty, a member of the council’s Finance Committee, said that he has talked with the city auditor and with school officials about alternatives to close the budget gap.
“I believe you can balance the budget without layoffs,” he said.
Flaherty said that additional income which will come into the district has not been included in the 2013 budget.
School Superintendent Suzanne Scallion said the fact that the true state and federal funding numbers are not known is what makes the budget process so difficult.
Flaherty said he believes “you can come up with $860,000 very quickly.”
“I will not push for a giant cut this year,” he said. “I will not be as aggressive this year.”
Flaherty sponsored a cut of $800,000, the equivalent of teacher pay increases, last year.
Flaherty said that it cost the district over $1.5 million to bridge that $800,000 cut approved by the City Council.
However, Flaherty also stressed that the city cannot sustain annual increases of five percent or more in School Department budgets.
“The total city-side budget is going up $2.7 million, while the school budget is going up $3 million.  We can’t continue this way,” Flaherty said, adding that the district made a mistake when it used $2 million in federal grants to fund recurring expenses, such as salaries.
Scallion has said that the loss of $2.2 million in federal funds, as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Title 1 funding are eliminated and reduced prospectively, results in 5.7 percent of the city’s funding of that department, which annually accounts for more than half of the total municipal budget.

To see last night’s school committee meeting, click here.

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