LOWELL -- It appears the School Department budget will increase by at least $8 million next year as a result of local budget obligations, as well as having to pick up the ongoing shortfall to meet the city's net school-spending requirement.

Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations Jay Lang walked the School Committee through the Lowell public schools' fiscal 2015 budget overview on Wednesday night, outlining the factors increasing the local budget as well as its net school-spending issues.

The district will have $4.7 million in fixed-cost budget increases, including $1.16 million in a fiscal 2013 structural-budget deficit that will carry over, $1.37 million in contractual salary step and lane increase, $1.1 million in out-of-district special-education student placement costs, $215,000 in student transportation, $456,000 in special-education and homeless-student transportation, and a $500,000 central administration office lease.

The district will also have a $2.1 million budget for new special-education and English Language Learner classrooms that will pay for seven new autism classrooms, one new life-skills classroom and three new English Language Learner classrooms. The money will help pay for 11 new teachers and 28 paraprofessionals across those classrooms.

There will be a $1.2 million cost of opening the Rogers STEM School to get to the $8.05 million required local budget increase in fiscal 2015.


Advertisement

Meanwhile, the city's net school spending increased by $7.3 million from fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2015 and, when combined with its remaining $806,000 shortfall from fiscal 2012 to 2014, leaves the city with an $8.12 million increase it must pick up in fiscal 2015.

Lang said the city's $144,360,281 fiscal 2014 operating budget will increase to $152,484,616 for the city to just meet its net school-spending obligations. It would increase to $152,413,420 to cover the fixed-cost budget increases and budgets for the new special education and ELL classrooms and opening the Rogers STEM School.

"We normally would present a budget tonight and set up deliberations for next week, but I'd like to spend a day or two working on this and work with the City Manager's Office to figure out what level of support we'll be able to obtain in 2015," Lang said.

School Committee member David Conway asked Lang whether he expected net school-spending obligations to increase even further or perhaps decrease from his projections.

"I'm not blaming anybody (for the shortfall). The fact is, that money didn't come to the schools, but the schools, whether program or personnel, suffered," Conway said. "Going forward, we need to stay on top of it to make sure we get the appropriate money coming to the school department."

Lang said councilors, committee members, school officials and the city manager must work together to figure out how to meet the net school-spending requirement.

"I'm nervous of additional costs and whether we can meet those obligations," Conway said. "Each year, it's a juggling act to make sure we can pay the bills. I'm afraid of spending money on programs and then all of a sudden, sitting back and realizing we have to cut. It's something we will have to keep an eye on to see where these monies are going."

School Committee member James Leary agreed. "We need to be thoughtful as we get into our deliberations. I know we will be," he said.

Mayor Rodney Elliott added, "It's important we continue to move in a very cautious manner, knowing how tight the budget will be this year on the city side. We're getting additional local aid in Chapter 70 and education funding, but there are additional obligations from prior years on the city side we have to consider, like pension liability, which will go against the levy this year. Even factoring in the tax increase of 3.5 percent proposed by the previous city manager, we are facing some significant challenges on the city side. The council is committed to net school spending. Education is a priority and we are going to do all we can to meet the net school-spending number."