More Money, More Problems? Extra Funds Spark School Panel Debate

Cambridge Public School Committee members argued over how to allocate unspent funds in the district’s operating budget at a meeting last night, just four months into this fiscal year.

In 2004-2005, the district established the School Debt Stabilization Fund in order to offset the unexpected costs of future projects. Because of past budget allocations and interest income, the district expects to have a budget surplus for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

Superintendent Thomas Fowler-Finn presented members with a list of 10 items—including computer upgrades, professional development training for teachers, and special education technology software—totaling over $800,000.

While some committee members supported the proposal set forth by the superintendent, others said that the surplus money could be put to better uses.

One committee member, Patricia M. Nolan ’80, said she felt that technology items on the list were funded improperly. She initiated a motion to remove the items from the list before the members voted on the proposal in its entirety.

“We need to have a strategic plan on how to spend for technology,” Nolan said, stating that the proposal allocated too much money to software without taking into account computer maintenance.

But her motion was defeated on 4-2 vote.

Another member, Luc Schuster, said that he was also unsatisfied with the proposal because of the list’s emphasis on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) examination. He ultimately voted against the superintendent’s proposal.

But member Joseph G. Grassi said that the committee should leave the job of matching up educational needs with budgetary allocation to the superintendent.

“I don’t want to get into the practice of having a secondary budget process,” he said. “I don’t think it’s helpful for the system.”

Ultimately, committee members approved the proposal by a 5-1 vote.

—Staff writer Laura A. Moore can be reached at lamoore@fas.harvard.edu.