Thursday, June 27, 2013

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: From the New Bedford City Council

A majority of members of the New Bedford City Council announced today that they have reached an agreement to approve an appropriation of $4 million to the New Bedford public schools.  The appropriation will put back the money that the city council cut a week ago just prior to approving a city budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The city council argued that the cut was necessary to assure that the school department had a plan to properly spend city funds.  The school committee has argued that devastating layoffs and program cuts would have to be made unless the $4 million was restored.

The city councillors have accepted the school committee’s offer to have 3 members of the city council participate in meetings with the school committee’s finance committee on at least a quarterly basis to review and monitor school spending and financial matters.  The superintendent and school business manager will attend those meetings.  The city council president will be responsible for appointing the 3 council members.   As a result of accepting the offer, the city council has agreed to restore the funds that were cut.

“We think that this will bring unprecedented cooperation and communication between the city council and the school committee at a time when it is crucial to provide education to our students while protecting taxpayers”  stated City Council President Bruce Duarte Jr.

“I am grateful to members of the school committee that chose reason over rhetoric,” Duarte said.

Over the past week, school committee members Bruce Oliveira and Lawrence Finnerty, after discussing the idea with school committee members, approached several city councillors attempting to secure swift restoration of the funds by offering an opportunity for city council participation in school official’s discussion on budgetary matters.  The council was open to the idea but were skeptical about whether a majority of school committee members would agree to more council involvement.  On Tuesday night, the school committee opened the door wide by voting in favor of including the council in meetings on the schools financial affairs.  After receiving the support of majority of the school committee Oliveira secured agreement with a majority of city councillors throughout the day on Wednesday.

Councillors agreeing to restore the $4 million were President Bruce Duarte Jr., David Alves, Deborah Coelho, Brian Gomes, Jane Gonsalves,  Denis Lawrence, Jr., Steve Martins,  Jim Oliveira and John Saunders.

“I fully understand and recognize the city council’s desire to protect taxpayers based on what has happened over the past year, but the school committee has a responsibility to make sure we are funding our education system at a level that adequately provides our kids an education and this agreement can accomplish both those goals.”, Bruce Oliveira stated. 

City Councillor John Saunders who proposed the cut at the council’s budget session is satisfied that this is a step in the right direction.

“This better work because I know that we cannot continue to fork over millions and millions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money; it’s easy to spend other people’s money but it’s time to show some restraint that money will be spent on things that are needed not on everything that is wanted,” said Saunders.

The city council’s finance committee chair Jane Gonsalves said this is exactly what the council intended when making the cut.
“When we made the cut, we knew that some people would become upset but this agreement is what we knew needed to happen in the interest of the taxpayers,” Gonsalves said.

At this point, the city council is agreeing only to restore the $4 million.  Any additional funding that the school committee may seek will need to be evaluated further.

Some city councillors see this level of participation as a short term mechanism.

“I think once a proper level of trust is established,  I certainly want school officials handling school business; but this is something that we needed to happen right now to avoid a repeat of last year’s surprise deficit that came with very few answers,”  said Councillor Steve Martins.

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