Worcester budget hearing 5/12/09

4:36: Starting with Worcester Public Schools – Dr. Deirdre Loughlin, Dr. Melinda Boone (interim and next superintendents) are both at the table. Dr. Stephen Mills – outgoing Deputy Superintendent – is also here…it’s like past, present, and future.

4:37: “The stimulus package is a temporary band-aid,” says Dr. Loughlin.

(As this is going on, retirees are being forces to take down banners they had hung in the upper gallery advocating for Section 19)

She says the schools understand the city pain, and will be going through the same thing next cycle.

4:40: Brian Allen, school budget director, says it’s been tough to budget with the state budget in flux. With state efforts and (pension reforms?) he says the deficit would be made up.

4:41: No teacher reductions for the first time in seven years.

4:42: Public speaker time: First speaker connects education to livable cities. The second speaker, a parent of three children in the schools(also a teacher), points at 6 (others say 7) years of underfunding leading to this year…asks the city council not to ignore that fact when thinking everything is adequate with this year’s school budget. Such thinking, she says, is “shortsighted,” especially coupled with the increased grant fee, etc. that cost the school system money.

“Instead of thinking short term…we have to open up candid conversations..about sustainability.”

Third speaker: “When it’s the priority of the country, how can we not…say it’s the priority of the city.”

4:50: Fourth speaker, Isabel Gonzalez of Stand for Children: “This year we’re not coming to ask for more money…we want to work together to encourage you to look at investing in our kids.”

“I urge you to look at…sustainable funding solutions.”

4:52: There had been a motion to approve(come on…tell us this isn’t planned in advance…the council spends HOURS talking about the public health department, but nothing on schools, the biggest single department and a source of ongoing consternation for councilors?)

Anyway, Councilor Rick Rushton got in one question before the approval, asking about a few items, including transportation cost cutting.

Allen says the schools are cutting back costs on special education out of town transportation, and will be looking at the end of the current provider contract this year.

5:00: Dr. Boone, already getting some applause from the crowd, saying expectations for students won’t fall just because the economy has. In other words, says Dr. Boone, she’ll continue to advocate for whatever money needed to get the job done.

5:11: All of a sudden, councilors want to talk. Eddy on the floor now.

He says the school fiscal cliff predicted by FY12 has moved to FY11. He, like the speaker, calls for a conversation about sustainable funding.

5:14: Now Rosen with questions.

While $252 million (the school budget) is a lot, says Rosen, who is running for school committee in the fall, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s enough.

5:18: That was more a speech than a question from Rosen…but Boone answers. “…there has been no shift in accountability of students.”

Just putting money into schools doesn’t solve problems, she says…but the schools may need to “reprogram” $$ to meet requirements at different levels.

5:22: The state reimbursement for charter school students had fallen $3.3 million in the governor’s budget, but was restored to $5million in the House budget.

5:27: The Worcester City Council version of the tipping point: If one councilor speaks, one more must. And once you hit three, it’s almost a sure thing 6 will speak. And once six do, the others on the floor will feel compelled…We’re at number four or so by our count.

5:32: Central office staff salaries cut by $500,000…intent is to redirect back into schools.

5:37: And the conversation that no one wanted continues….Toomey, Petty, Smith….

5:39: Smith: If you had more money, what would you do with it.

Dr. Boone artfully says it would go to “shoring up the foundations” and “stretch goals” beyond the minimum, as well as meeting mandates that might not be met currently.

Dr. Loughlin’s wishlist: smaller class sizes, teacher development, ESL, special ed(and other achievement gaps), student healthcare support, etc.

5:51: Clancy points out he made a motion to approve this budget, since they can only cut anyway. But hey, while we’re here, he’ll take the opportunity to talk anyway. He thanks Boone, Loughlin, Mills, and says he isn’t optimistic about future budgets. Next.

5:52: Palmieri: “Clancy took the words right out of my mouth.” Clancy: “I always do.”

6:02: Loughlin says there are still gifted and specialized programs …but they’re spread throughout the schools, and not always at one place.

And Palmieri calls for a “Boston Latin” type flagship school.

6:14: Germain calls for several conversations, including transportation costs. Allen says the WRTA fare increases have impacted the budget.


6:16: We’re recessing for a 30 minute dinner break.

7:04: We’re back. Long 30 minutes.

Economic Development budget.

  • Reduced by $185,000 and 2 employees
  • Maintenance is level-funded

Being taken with Neighborhoods & Housing and Planning & Regulatory

Overall, about 6 total positions lost between the three interconnected departments.

7:09: Assistant City Manager Julie Jacobson says the positions lost will effect the timing of projects, etc.

Rosen calls for the department to “drop things for a few days,” if it means helping businesses that want to move to Worcester.

“We realize that is a priority…but we’re going to have to change how we do business,” says Jacobson.

And while Worcester will help businesses that are already in town, they plan on relying more heavily on Choose Worcester for business attraction.

7:13: Toomey calls for the colleges and universities to help the offices…her version of SILOT/PILOT/whatever. Jacobson says the schools have been very helpful.

Jacobson clarifies her offices aren’t stopping new business assistance/attraction, but won’t be actively recruiting them.

7:16: Haller states her displeasure at the planned elimination of city officials attending neighborhood business association meetings.

Economic Development chief Tim McGourthy says the elimination is painful, but a necessary reduction looking at all the other options.

Haller calls the cuts “a step backwards.”

7:26: Jacobson says a developer’s conference this morning showing off available parcels was a huge hit, with two buses full of potential developers looking at pad ready, underutilized spaces in Worcester.


  • Worcester is taking over management of Union Station from OR&L

7:42: WORKFORCE approved

7:46: AIRPORT approved

(Konnie quips that it might be the last one)

7:47: CABLE SERVICES approved

7:49: FIVE POINT PLAN(The last item….)

7:55: Approved

7:56: While the budget is about to be approved, there’s a not-so-underlying tone that they’ll be dealing with this again in a few weeks as the state budget numbers come in.

7:57: Rushton moves to cut $90,000 from health insurance into the contingency fund to pay for restoring city nurses until September, when a panel is due to come in with recommendations for the new healthcare partnership between UMass Medical and the city.

O’Brien says the cut would come from the necessary appropriation to health insurance…

Hallers opposes Rushton’s motion, saying she believed the City Manager’s (and staff) assurance that UMass would be a good partner and take care of the gaps.

Lukes reiterates her concerns last week about nurses working off site, with offsite coordinators maintaining records. A couple nurses in the audience look incredulous.

“That department was not meeting its full expectations…we need a public health department, but we need one that’s effective at meeting the needs of Worcester.”

She says there was a lack of accountability, oversight, etc. in the department, so she doesn’t want to restore funding with those shortfalls.

8:12: Rushton says it’s a matter of meeting a short term gap.

It passes 9-2; Haller and Lukes against.

8:14: O’Brien: “I think all of us in this room are apprehensive about…reductions from the state.”

8:17: “This entire budget is a pipe dream anyway,” says Lukes.

“A benchmark,” says O’Brien.

“OK, a nightmare,” says Lukes.

“A benchmark,” says O’Brien.

8:18: We’re going back to council liveblog now, just to keep it all accurate.


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