Why wait until Wednesday or Friday for your Everett political news? Read and share The Everett Stimulus.
The Everett city council Monday night approved an additional $500,000 for the school department but the actual transfer of the funds from the city’s general stabilization fund took a back seat to what has become a controversial question: Whose idea was it to ask for the money in the first place? The city’s chief financial officer made it clear Monday the idea for the funding came from the school administration.
One would think a transfer of money necessary for the schools to finish out the year without layoffs and with essential services would be something everyone can agree on. Guess again. In an apparent attempt by School Superintendent Fred Foresteire and the school committee to say, “Hey, we didn’t ask for anything,” they sent a letter to the city council saying just that.
At a March 19 council committee meeting to consider the supplement appropriation, Foresteire’s letter struck a nerve. “I want to make it perfectly clear; the School Department and Administration of Everett Public Schools did not request this $500,000,” the letter said. “The Mayor proposed this transfer of $500,000 due to the backlash that was caused when there was a very real threat of our students not being able to participate in various competitions. This concern arose as a result of the announcement made by the Mayor at the Council meeting of Feb. 12, 2018, that he was banning all out of state travel for the School Department, effective immediately.” Ouch.
Despite the letter, the tone of which Mayor Carlo DeMaria clearly didn’t like, the committee approved the funding.
Monday night, Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who is often willing to ask questions other won’t, questioned city Chief Financial Officer Eric Demas as to where the request for the money came from. Demas, appearing not wanting to enter the political fray, said while there may not have been a formal request, school administration officials came up with the $500,000 figure. “It was made clear that $500,000 would get them through the end of the year,” Demas said.
It was Demas who warned the council at their raucous Feb, 12 meeting that taking any more than the $5 million from the city’s general stabilization fund would endanger the city’s bond rating. The council approved the $5 million at that meeting, seemingly tapping out the fund.
In informal conversations between the city and school administrations that followed, school official Charles Obremski suggested the additional $500,000, according to Demas.
Demas did not back off his assessment that city needed to maintain a certain amount in the stabilization fund for the city’s financial health. “I don’t recommend [spending more than the original $5 million]. I was clear about not wanting to use stabiliation funds for ongoing services.”
The entire situation seemed a bit silly. Everyone seemed to agree that the schools needed the additional $500,000 but no one wanted to admit they were the source of the request. The school superintendent not surprisingly wanted it both ways. He wanted the funding but wanted to whack the mayor by saying no one on the schools’ end asked for it.
Foresteire’s nonsense puts professionals like Demas and Obremski in a tough spot. They do their best to stay out of any political games while still doing their jobs—not an easy lift.
Just how much money the schools really need has been a moving target:
• Foresteire came to the council Feb. 12 saying without an extra $9 million, there would be 110 layoffs.
• The council agreed to $5 million. After the meeting Foresteire told The Everett Stimulus. that the $5 million would stave off layoffs, “until the end of the month [Feb.].”
• The Everett Independent reported on Feb. 21 that Foresteire said he would not be back before the council. “We’re not going back to the City Council,” he told the paper. “I don’t see it happening. There was no need for what happened there last week [at the Feb. 12 meeting]. That was money they owed to us – $6 million. We weren’t up there begging for anything.”
• Then came the mystery $500,000 request.
The city and schools would do well to quit the political games largely orchestrated by Foresteire who operates with near complete autonomy with little, if any, oversight by the school committee.
Education is not an area to mess with. It’s nothing less than the most important investment a city can make.