NEWBURYPORT — Superintendent Kevin Lyons is asking the School Committee to push forward with a budget missing a quarter million dollars on the hopes that federal stimulus money will arrive to fill that gap.
Saying that any further cuts would mean "negative impacts" on students next year, Lyons urged school leaders this week to consider passing an unbalanced budget when they vote on the 2010 school budget on April 27, even if the funding gap is still there.
Lyons reported Monday night that efficiency cuts and the addition of stimulus money and new revenue sources have whittled the $1.34 million shortfall he announced on Feb. 23 down to $250,000.
"There's a lot more certainty today than there was one month ago," said Lyons of his proposed budget, which includes increased revenues of approximately $975,000 over the budget presented in February.
He believes the remaining gap could be closed through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants or state disbursements. Another $489 million is yet to be allocated to Bay State communities.
Lyons was disappointed to learn two weeks ago that Newburyport was not among the districts that were allocated funding through Gov. Deval Patrick's first $168 million round of stimulus disbursements. He said there is a very strong potential that the city will receive some of the remaining funds, or perhaps be successful in acquiring ARRA grants.
"This district will go after these (federal) grants aggressively," he said.
Lyons informed the School Committee of a grass-roots letter campaign recently launched by parents and residents of the district that he hoped would raise awareness of the district's plight.
"There's intense pressure on the governor and Legislature from cities and towns that got zero (disbursement) in the last round of stimulus monies," Lyons said. "I'm going to advise anyone listening to keep that up because it's going to come down to that."
Adam Martignetti, chief of staff for state Rep. Michael Costello, confirmed Costello's office has received more than 100 letters from city residents to date, and he said Costello would be advocating on behalf of those residents in upcoming discussions with Patrick.
"The parents have definitely made their voices heard and have appealed to the governor for a fair distribution of the remaining stimulus funds," Martignetti said. "We certainly commend them for that, and Rep. Costello is going to be following up with the governor, reiterating what the parents are seeking — a fair distribution."
Lyons said any more cuts to next year's budget would begin affecting students in a negative way. And that's something for which he and fellow administrators have been putting pencil to paper for the last month to avoid.
In formulating the current revenue forecast, Lyons is counting on:
a revenue increase of $250,000 due to city workers changing their health insurance plan
an increase of $150,000 in the city's assessment allocation per Mayor John Moak
a one-time $225,000 cash influx from the school-choice revolving account
plus an additional $50,000 due to increased school-choice applicants for next year
Lyons said the district is expecting to receive about $300,000 in promised ARRA stimulus funds funneled from the federal government through Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants, and he and district administrators were also able to cut approximately $120,000 from the school's operating budget.
"That is significant," he told the committee. "This brings the gap to $250,000 when it was $500,000 one month ago, and that's great news."
But if April 27 should come along before any of these revenue streams come to fruition, Lyons told the committee he would be advocating for passage of the budget, funded or not.
"If we still have an unbalanced budget (on April 27), my recommendation would be that you adopt an unbalanced budget at that time subject to any changes that could take place," Lyons said. "I promise you there's no more money to take from this budget that isn't going to negatively affect students."