NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

November 21, 2013

Public accountability for public education

WOW: $500,000

What is half a million dollars? That’s the estimated deficit in our schools’ current academic year. As one who is in regular attendance at School Committee meetings, this amount is easily calculated from a growing list of unbudgeted expenses including the urgent need of the additional school bus required after the first day of school bus fiasco, an unbudgeted coordinator’s position, cut from the approved budget in May only to appear as a new hire in September and the unbudgeted significant, out-of-district expenses plus the continuing but still unknown food service contract losses adding to the amount.

Despite this, the last scheduled School Committee meeting, at which time this deficit was to be discussed, was abruptly canceled the night before the city election. WOW! More importantly, why? One wonders, given this significant deficit early in the year, is funding sufficient to continue operations as planned. There must be public accountability for public education, especially at its annual cost of over $26 million representing > 50 percent of the city budget when benefits are included. How does such a deficit occur?

No doubt, there will be finger-pointing and excuses. Blame and responsibility will be assigned, but it is not about blame and responsibility. It’s about the education of our kids. Guilt is a self-imposed sentiment that is derived from self-reflection. To a certain extent, I have a sense of guilt myself; as a frequent attendee at School Committee meetings for over nine years now, I, as others present at the most recent meetings of the new year, were made clearly aware of the numerous unbudgeted expenses in the current year’s budget. Perhaps, I should have made such a serious deficit known earlier; however, given the election year, I did not wish to be mislabeled a muckraker attempting to influence the elections, especially given all the letters describing for whom one was voting or others should vote.

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