Finance Subcommittee holds meeting to discuss 2020-2021 budget



Finance Subcommittee members met Tuesday to discuss the budget for the coming school year. Interim Superintendent Ben Lummis reviewed budget uncertainty in regards to programs to the Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

Members of the School Committee Finance Subcommittee came together virtually at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16 to discuss the 2020-2021 school year budget and the Summer Food Service Program, which provides food for low income families in Brookline.

The economic impacts of COVID-19, including the Brookline Public Schools (BPS) transition to remote learning, have created budget problems for the upcoming school year, prolonging the allocation of funds for the fall semester.

Deputy Superintendent of Administration and Finance, Mary Ellen Normen, explained that the uncertainties of the upcoming school year have suspended the finalization of the district’s budget.

“We [hope to] have a budget by November. [However], there could be many financial uncertainties during the summer,” Normen said. “The normal timeframe in which the summary of the budget for the upcoming school year would be the end of April, but because of the circumstances, this was not accomplished.”

Interim Superintendent Ben Lummis stated that the district is not ready for any predictions about the upcoming budget because of the uncertainties of COVID-19 and the economic shutdown.

“In normal town meetings at this time, we would be done with the budget and focusing on other topics,” Lummis said. “The summer will most likely bring financial uncertainty for the district. We cannot give you a timeline of when the budget will be finalized.”

Lummis continued the discussion on uncertainties in the budget with an update on paraprofessionals and the Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP). The paraprofessionals, the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) and the BSC have discussed coming to an agreement about how to approach the potential layoffs.

“In terms of paraprofessionals and notifying them about potential RIFs, we always want to minimize the amount [of layoffs], so we are first working with the BEU to make an agreement,” Lummis said. “The impact would be around 35 individuals [laid off], some of them being voluntary, which is the most optimal solution.”

On May 29, the Brookline School Committee announced release of hundreds of RIFs to town educators. Interim Superintendent Ben Lummis has since released a statement stating the rescinding of the majority of these RIFs. However, the status of paraprofessionals is still unknown. (LUCA KELLEY NIELSEN/SAGAMORE STAFF)

Lummis, who recently sent out a letter to the community rescinding over 300 reduction-in-force notices (RIFs), described his concerns about formulating a budget right now with the uncertainty in some departments because of COVID-19.

“There are some areas that will be reduced because there will be limited large groups for the upcoming school year like athletics, performing arts and extracurriculars,” Lummis said. “We have to make sure we do not overestimate the predicted budget for the upcoming school year.”

Lummis also described how the BSC will prioritize categories of the budget that will not be critically impacted despite present circumstances.

“There are going to be moving parts of the budget because of COVID-19, so some of the categories that will not be final are social services, some utilities and extracurricular activities,” Lummis said. “We are sure transportation will be set for the upcoming school year because that rarely fluctuates.”

The next topic for the Finance Subcommittee was the plans for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) in Brookline. To discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the program, Director of School Building Services Operations, Matt Gillis, was present.

Gillis explained that the program will run on minimal resources without any decisions from the BSC.

“In February, the program was expected to break even but now, with the economic recession, the program is expected to run at a loss in revenue. The question becomes if the town wants to run the normal operation at an expected loss,” Gillis said.

Even with the economic downfall, the program has kept every participating family on the payroll. However, Gillis said that the SFSP expects to lay off some of their staff to accommodate their loss in funding.

Nonetheless, the program would still need to pay their administrative director, assistant director and food service director. By hiring the directors and paying their salaries, the cost of running the program would surpass its budget