A near-unanimous Newton City Council passed a resolution Monday night calling on Mayor Ruthanne Fuller to avoid middle and high school job cuts by tapping pandemic federal aid money to close a projected budget gap.
About 20 positions at the middle and high school levels are threatened by the Fiscal 2023 school budget deficit, officials have said.
In a written response to city leaders Wednesday afternoon, Fuller did not directly address the city councilors’ call for additional money to the schools.
Since early March, city and school officials have grappled with an anticipated gap in the Newton Public Schools’ fiscal 2023 budget. Officials have narrowed the deficit with cost-saving moves and $1.5 million from the city’s share of American Rescue Plan Act money released by Fuller.
On Monday night, 22 Newton city councilors voted in favor of a resolution that said Fuller must do more.
“We understand that the School Committee is grateful that half of their $4 million budget gap was restored but we feel that gratefulness will not provide the services our students need,” the councilors’ resolution said.
“We understand that ARPA is one time funding however we are hopeful the city will seek revenue in the coming year and this is not the time to let our students down,” the resolution said.
Ward 7 Councilor Lisle Baker was absent from the meeting, but also signed the resolution. Ward 4 Councilor-at-large Lenny Gentile abstained from the vote.
In her response Wednesday, Fuller said the administration and leadership of the Newton Public Schools share the goals of the School Committee and City Council of “working directly with students and families on social and emotional health and helping support mental, behavioral and emotional well-being.”
She said the city and the school district are supporting Newton’s young people, and that officials are “acutely aware that many young people are suffering with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic and social stressors.”
In addition to middle and high school teaching positions, the expected cuts would be in areas including literacy, technical education, a middle school psychologist, and a full-time equivalent high school guidance counselor position.
Fuller has repeatedly resisted calls to use more of the one-time federal money to balance the schools’ operating budget for next year.
Newton’s public school system is among the state’s largest districts, enrolling 11,700 students and with a workforce of 2,100 full-time employees and nearly 400 part-time workers.
The School Committee in April approved a $262 million budget for the coming fiscal year. Fuller has said the schools’ budget increase is one of the largest single-year hikes in the city’s history.
For weeks, Newton teachers and community members have demonstrated and mounted public campaigns to avoid the cuts. Nearly 1,000 people participated in one recent letter-writing campaign supported by the Newton Teachers Association to pressure Fuller and other leaders to close the remaining budget gap with the federal money.
“Thank the City Councilors for their dedication to our children, and ask the Mayor in the strongest possible terms to use ARPA money to restore $1.4 million to the school budget,” organizers said on the campaign’s website.
The city of Newton was allocated about $63 million in aid money through the American Recovery and Rescue Plan Act, while the city’s schools received another $3.2 million.
The city has reserved nearly half of its share of ARPA funding, but about $32 million remains available, according to city data.
Fuller, in her message Wednesday, outlined the mental health services and student supports offered by the city and its school system. That includes an additional School Adjustment Counselor added at Newton South and Newton North high schools, plus increased psychologist support at Newton South, she said.
The city also partners with Newton-Wellesley Hospital, William James College, Riverside Community Care, Samaritans, and Families for Depression Awareness to help amplify messages about mental health awareness and suicide prevention, according to Fuller.
Local leaders have said a tax increase would be needed to support the schools’ budget for fiscal 2024.
In her message, Fuller said her administration looks forward to working with city and school elected leaders, parents, caregivers, and residents “to ensure the financial support for academic excellence, educational equity and social and emotional well-being are in place for FY2024 and beyond.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.