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Jake Auchincloss’ newsletters remain one of the best ways to learn about the major issues facing the city, particularly when it comes to budgetary matters, and his latest is no exception. In today’s email, he raises a concern that has been invisible in the media and in communications from other public officials but will become quite important over the coming years. Here is his summary (with an embedded link removed, as it seems to be in error.)

Budget and financial forecast after the teachers contract
The mayor and city council will agree a new annual budget by early summer. In the fall, the administration will present its five-year financial forecast and capital improvement plan. I will be watching for how the new teachers contract affects the budget.

After two negotiating cycles in the past decade where they made concessions, the Newton Teachers Association secured a top deal this time. That contract, more than any other line item, drives the school budget, which in turn drives the city-wide budget.

The schools are the beating heart of Newton, and the teachers the beating heart of the schools. This contract attracts and retains the best teachers, so I am in support. City Hall must be transparent about the tradeoffs, too. When the budget is debated this spring, I’ll report on where the money is coming from.

In simple terms, the teachers contract would cause the school budget to exceed the Mayor’s proposed allocation to the school system by quite a lot. There are four ways to deal with this:
1) Live within the allocation by reducing other school system expenditures. Unlikely, in that compensation (salaries and associated benefits) accounts for about 85% of the school department’s budget, and making up the difference from other important programs and services is quite hard. Even if enrollment were to drop per recent projections, the decrease in school age population is not enough to reduce the number of classrooms or classroom teachers, and it would be very troubling if larger class sizes were to result.
2) Hope that the Commonwealth’s new education bill will provide extra resources to Newton. Unlikely, in two respects. First, increased funding under the bill is not guaranteed, but is subject to future state finances. Second, as noted here: “The biggest funding boosts would go to districts with large numbers of poor students and English language learners.” That’s not Newton.
3) Take the funds out of other city departments.
4) Seek an override to expand city tax revenues.
I’m guessing there are one-time savings or revenues in the city budget that will postpone this issue for a year or so, but not for long. Jake is wise to keep an eye on it and to let us know his perspectives over the coming months–especially since options 3 and 4 are the most likely.