Newton Public Schools (NPS) may use recently allocated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to restore some proposed job cuts, said Liam Hurley, NPS assistant superintendent and chief financial and administrative officer, at a Newton School Committee meeting on Wednesday.
Hurley said NPS intends to lower its maintenance budget for the next fiscal year—part of which the ARPA funds can cover—and use the freed funds to sustain more jobs than previously planned.
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in a Thursday update that she will allocate $1.51 million in ARPA funds to reimburse NPS for previous costs caused by one-time projects related to COVID-19, such as ventilation improvements.
Hurley said that the budget restructuring could restore up to 20 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions out of the 40 proposed cuts. One FTE is equivalent to someone who works 40-hour weeks, and a 0.5 FTE means someone who works 20-hour weeks.
Paul Levy, Ward 6 School Committee member, said that the strategy might not be sustainable.
“[NPS’s] numbers showed [that], every year, we’ve been coming in, on average, $800,000 above budget for maintenance,” Levy said. “To the extent you are choosing to use this one-time funding of maintenance to support staff positions, that’s problematic given the five-year pattern on maintenance.”
In a straw vote, the committee expressed a narrow approval for the tentative fiscal year 2023 budget, though details of what the budget will include are not set in stone. Four committee members voted to approve it, three objected, and two abstained.
Several committee members said that their vote in the straw poll is preliminary, and they need further information to decide whether to support the proposed budget.
“This straw vote shows that we’ve got a little bit of work in order to make sure that everyone is comfortable with our final budget,” said Tamika Olszewski, School Committee member from Ward 4. “Understanding fully all of the changes and … some of that additional information would help to clarify the picture and clarify the changes that these additional funds have allowed.”
The Newton School Committee will convene on Monday, when NPS officials will present the updated version of the fiscal year 2023 budget. Fuller and Olszewski said that the committee might convene again on Tuesday in case it needs more time for deliberation before voting.