Court Orders City Officials To Find Funds To Keep Schools Open
At the urging of the Massachusetts Board of Education and the local teachers' union, a state Superior Court judge has issued an injunction that forces school and town officials find enough money to keep the Lynn Public Schools open for a full 180-day year as required by law.
The action came this month after officials of the 12,000-student system outside of Boston warned state education officials that they did not have enough money to meet their payroll through the end of the school year. They asked permission to end3the year early, the first district in Massachusetts to make such a request in three years.
As of late last week, however, it was uncertain whether the city's mayor, who also serves as chairman of the Lynn School Committee, would seek a loan enabling the district to resolve temporarily its financial problems.
Terry Zoulas, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Education, said Lynn officials filed an appeal immediatly after Judge Peter F. Brady issued the injunction on May 17. That appeal, he said was denied. The court's action compels city officials to seek either a short-term loan or an advance on next year's state-aid payment, according to Mr. Zoulas.
$2.6 Million Needed
Lynn school officials notified the state department of education earlier this month that as of last Friday the district would not be able to meet its payroll obligations and requested permission to close the schools early. District officials said they would need an additional $2.6 million to keep the schools open until June 22, their scheduled closing date.
The state board denied the school district's requests and then asked the state attorney general to seek an injunction that would require the 12,000-student system to continue operating.
In a separate action, the Lynn Teachers Union also filed suit, charging that the district's attempt to close the schools before meeting the terms of the state's compulsory attendance law would violate the teachers' contract.
Proposition 2 Cited
Lynn school officials contend that the district's financial problems are directly related to the spending limitations placed on the state's cities and towns by the enactment of Proposition 2 in 1980. That law placed restrictions on the amount of revenue that could be raised through property taxes and at the same time stripped local school committees of their authority to levy taxes and establish their own budgets.
A Shrinking Budget
In 1981, former Mayor Kevin White threatened to close the Boston Public Schools for financial reasons, forcing the state to take legal action similar to that in the Lynn case, according to a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Education.
Prior to the enactment of Proposition 2, the Lynn school district's budget was about $29 million, acel5lcording to George F. Laubner, superintendent of schools. Since then, the school has had to operate on a budget of $24.2 million, he said, and the city council has approved a level-funded budget for the next school year.
"The school committee feels that is inadequate to meet the needs of the children in the city," said Mr. Laubner.
State officials have acknowledged the problems facing many school districts because of Proposition 2, but they also noted that the situation in Lynn is the result of a number of factors.
Local Politics A Factor
According to Mr. Zoulas, the school district's problems are the result of a conflict between the school committee and the city council over spending, the city's failure to raise local property assessments to 100 percent to raise tax revenue, and generally poor management on both sides.
"It's not a case of the state not fulfilling its obligation, but a town not providing adequately for the schools," Mr. Zoulas said. "They have a lot of problems that are not just limited to keeping the schools open," he added.
Of the school district's $24.2 million operating budget, according to state and local school officials, about $19 million comes from the state and only about $5 million is provided through local property taxes.
In an interview conducted prior to the court's order, Mayor Antonio Marino charged the school committee with "deliberately overspending" its budget and said that he was reluctant to take a $2.6-million loan because it would set "a bad precedent."
"I can't borrow money in violation of the law," he said. "I cannot do that in good conscience; every department in the city would overspend and that would circumvent the law."
"Borrowing doesn't get you out of this mess," the mayor added. "You still have it next year."