David Fleishman, superintendent of Newton Public Schools (NPS), warned the NPS community at a March 8 budget presentation that the district may cut as many as 74 jobs next year as a result of declining enrollment rates and a budget gap.
The district’s 2022 budget, though, increased by nearly $9 million from 2021.
“There has got to be some issue here. How does Newton of all places not have money?” said one Newton community member during a Newton Teachers Association (NTA) Parent-Educator Collaborative meeting hosted Thursday night on Zoom.
NPS’s budget increased by $8.9 million from 2021, according to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s March 10 newsletter update. Additionally, the school system received $14 million of Newton’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation and $6.3 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), according to the update.
Despite the budget increase for 2022 and federal funds, NPS’s proposed 2023 budget exceeds the available funds by $5.2 million, according to Fuller’s update.
Fleishman predicted that the imbalance could cause the loss of approximately 50 to 60 staff members and potentially 12 to 14 through layoffs.
“Newton Public Schools will continue striving to provide strong academic and social-emotional support to students and keep class sizes reasonable,” Fleishman said. “But the budget was developed with very little cushion, relying on surpluses and aggressive assumptions to balance.”
Fuller said at the meeting that much of the district’s capital has been invested in creating a safer school environment, as well as facility improvements and maintenance, and the final payments of the EDCO Collaborative program for deaf students.
Factors such as increased substitute staffing costs, unanticipated COVID-19 costs, and declines in building rental revenues created the deficit, according to slides Fuller used in the meeting.
Even with an essential purchasing freeze implemented in January, it is likely that federal COVID-19 funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Emergency Relief III will be needed to end the year with a balanced budget, according to Fleishman.
“88% of the budget is personnel costs. In 2017, that number was 86%. As a result, the reductions need to be primarily personnel due to fixed costs in non-personnel areas,” wrote Fuller in her update. “We cannot use one time [ARPA] funding to close this budget gap, because that’s just kicking the can down the road.”
This news has left Newton teachers, parents, and community members concerned for the students and their education.
Teachers at the Thursday meeting said they are worried about finding time to give each student the attention they need if class sizes increase.
A social worker for the district said she is concerned about the impacts of the budget cuts on students’ social and emotional health.
“Tapped-out and burnt-out staff are not going to provide what our kids need, and that’s what layoffs are going to give us,” she said. “Why must our students be asked to be the most resilient people?”
When asked for potential alternatives, Michael Zilles, president of the NTA, had a simple answer.
“Use the American Rescue Plan Act to get us through this hump,” Zilles said.
Zilles said he believes the mayor can allocate some of the $34.7 million the city has left in ARPA funds to close the budget gap.
A parent at the meeting called for transparency from the district.
“We don’t want to keep throwing money at the problem if it’s inefficiency,” the parent said.
Fuller will outline her final proposal during the budget address to the City Council on April 19.
Featured Image by Nicole Vagra / Heights Editor