Several Barnstable city councilors said they were disappointed that a joint meeting with the school committee did not take place as scheduled Thursday to discuss the district’s operating budget and financial priorities in the context of the COVID pandemic -19 in progress.
Instead, the school committee moved its next regular meeting from one day to Tuesday, August 24 at 7 p.m. Classes at Barnstable Public Schools are scheduled to resume Wednesday, September 1 for grades 1-12.
The city typically begins its budgeting process in late August and early September for the upcoming fiscal year. Cotuit councilor Jessica Rapp Grassetti said she hopes to meet as soon as possible with the school committee to talk about revenue sharing “before they get too far into the budgeting process.”
The problem is a long-standing 60:40 revenue split between the district and the city. Currently, 60 cents of every dollar of municipal growth goes to schools. While district enrollment has hovered at 5,000 students in recent years, enrollment has fallen to 4,700 students in the 2020-2021 academic year.
“It disappoints me,” said Rapp Grassetti. “The enrollment in school is decreasing and the budget is increasing. I think it’s high time we looked at the formula. It has to happen now.”
Board chairman Matthew Levesque said he meets regularly with chief executive Mark Ells and the superintendent. Meg Mayo-Brown will remain in close communication during the pandemic.
Levesque agreed that “we have to decide if we want to do the 60/40 split with the growth dollars,” adding that he too was disappointed that the joint meeting did not take place.
“We are moving forward and doing our best,” said Lévesque. “I’m not going to avoid these discussions.”
Councilor Paul Hébert asked: “Is it possible that the school committee did not understand the message that we must find money to pay for the running of our city?”
The Superintendent is “very aware of what (CFO) Mark Milne and I are doing with respect to the budget,” Ells said. “I do not communicate directly with the school committee, but I communicate regularly with the superintendent,” who, he said, has “a solid understanding of critical budget factors.”
Levesque noted that the number of “ESLs”, or ESL learners, is increasing at Barnstable, resulting in increased costs.
“We are always at or below the cost per student compared to other school districts,” he said. “Even though registrations are down, the need is actually greater. “
“This meeting was meant to be a special meeting with the school department,” said Councilor Paul Neary. “I have had many calls with residents in my neighborhood who were eager to participate in this discussion. We are going back to school. I think there could have been some give and take on what awaited our students.”
The joint meeting “was meant to be educational and collaborative, not confrontational,” Neary added.
Levesque encouraged residents to attend Tuesday’s school committee and participate in public comment.
In another action, council voted unanimously to approve the transfer of $ 2.5 million of Community Preservation Act funds to increase the availability of community housing in Barnstable; $ 816,793 in non-designated CPC funds to renovate the Centerville playground with ADA compliant equipment and surfacing; and $ 125,000 in CPC Open Space funds to make the Barnstable Hollow Field Playground at Barnstable Village ADA Compliant.
Municipal architect Mark Marinaccio said of the 11 municipal playgrounds in Barnstable’s seven villages, five are public and only two are currently accessible.
In his bimonthly report, Ells said the city received the first of two Conservation Law Foundation water quality lawsuits on August 13 and that he would keep council informed.
He said Vineyard Wind awarded the construction contract to excavate the road and run transmission cables from Covell’s Beach to an electrical substation in Independence Park.
He urged residents and visitors to use common sense and caution as the following beaches and ponds are without lifeguards as students return to school: Joshua, Hamblin, and Hathaway Ponds; and the beaches of Millway, Loop and Sea Street. Bathrooms will remain available at these locations, and door staff and lifeguards will be on-site at Craigville Beach until after Labor Day.
Finally, Ells said he would confirm a date for the removal of barriers along Main Hyannis Street by the next council meeting on September 2.
August 15 was the target removal date when the state initially established outdoor dining regulations, “but our discussions have always been post-Labor Day,” Ells said.
Although a fuel spill occurred earlier this week when a truck cut through one of the concrete barriers, there has been “a significant decrease in the impact” since the barriers were put in place, Ells said. .
“I think the biggest concerns are about traffic,” not public safety, he said, pledging to continue including main street traders in planning for the summer. next, as well as Global local plan and community vision efforts currently underway.