The Newton City Council voted against the proposed fiscal year 2023 operating budget at a meeting on Thursday due to its disagreement with the amount allocated to the Newton Public Schools (NPS), though the budget will automatically go into effect regardless.
Out of 24 councilors, 13 voted against the budget, voicing their disapproval at the potential NPS job cuts in FY 2023. Their votes are symbolic, however, as the rejected budget will automatically go in effect 45 days after its presentation to the City Council, according to City Solicitor Alissa Ocasio Giuliani. The budget will go into effect regardless of the council’s vote tally.
The City Council has limited powers when it comes to the operational budget, Giuliani said. While the City Council can make cuts to the budget, it cannot increase it, nor can the council reject the budget as a whole, as it would automatically go in effect in 45 days.
Marc Laredo, councilor-at-large of Ward 7, said that a voting no would send a message to the Fuller administration before casting his vote against the budget.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree and disagree forcefully with a choice that has been made,” Laredo said. “While I think [Ward 8] Councilor [Rick] Lipof is correct that many of us have urged privately and publicly for more funding, we’ve done that here. The vote, in my mind, while it will be symbolic, … will be very clear.”
While a majority of councilors said that the NPS can use additional funds, not all of them voted against the budget. Deborah Crossley, councilor-at-large of Ward 5, said that while the budget might not be perfect, it resulted from careful deliberations by the Fuller administration and the School Committee. It is not the job of the council to control every line item in the budget, she said, and the council should show its support to the administration.
In an email update on Friday, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller reiterated that the budget would go into effect automatically despite the council’s rejection. She also explained her objection to an earlier resolution by the council, which called for her administration to allocate another $1.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to the schools.
“This is done strategically,” Fuller wrote. “We consciously have focused our one-time funds for NPS heavily on one-time costs such as facility improvements and COVID related expenses. We all understand that using one-time funding sources to address on-going operations is not responsible.”
While the council cannot increase the current budget, Susan Albright, council president and councilor-at-large of Ward 2, suggested that the council learn to exert its leverage in the future. Since the council has power over the administration’s requests for money outside of the operational budget, she said, the council must be meticulous with these requests in order to leverage power in the future.
“I just want to say to the Finance Committee and to the council as a whole, when we are asked as a council to approve spending for free cash, or whatever the amounts of money that … come before the Finance Committee, I ask you to please pay close attention,” she said. “And please, let’s not be a rubber stamp, because that’s our only leverage.”