EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 14, 2014

Riley unveils city's new school budget

Budget: Proposed spending plan would increase by $9.5 million

LAWRENCE — There will be two dozen additional teachers and full-time staff working in the classrooms of Lawrence Public Schools at the start of the new academic year in September.

The school district will also be spending nearly $5-million more in investments for additional classrooms, staff salary increases and additional needs for schools which have been considered underfunded, according to a preliminary budget released by Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley. This will reflect the recent three-year contract ratified by the Lawrence Teachers Union.

But the biggest major cost category increase will be $5.3 million for so-called school-based services which include transportation, one-time academic supports, facilities maintenance and additional special education support personnel.

Employee benefits — which includes retirement, unemployment, health insurance, workers compensation and other coverage — accounts for another $1.8 million increase in the proposed $167.3 million spending plan that Riley has crafted for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Overall, the School Department’s general fund budget would increase by close to $9.5 million, a 6 percent jump over the current $157.8 million budget. With grant money anticipated for the new year, overall school spending would top $185 million, according to a slide demonstration presented last Thursday to the School Committee. Even with a $4.5 million decrease in grants, the overall educational budget would increase by $5 million.

This is the third consecutive year that the School Committee will not get to vote on the school budget. The committee lost its governance powers in late 2011 after the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education declared Lawrence Public Schools a “Level 5” school district for chronically underperforming. About 95 percent of the school district’s budget is based on state aid.

Riley, who agreed to a 3 1/2-year contract in January 2012 to run the city’s failing education system while it’s under state receivership, noted that individual schools will exercise more autonomy than ever in choosing services and determining their own budgets, with less involvement by the School Department’s Central Office.

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