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Cambridge City Council Adopts 2020 Budget After Heated Debate Over School Funding

Housing Overlay Roundtable
Cambridge Mayor Mark C. McGovern speaks at a meeting in April about affordable housing in Cambridge.

The Cambridge City Council voted at its meeting Monday to adopt a budget for fiscal year 2020 that represents the largest spending increase in city history.

The budget — which passed despite concerns and objections from several councilors — totals more than $678 million in appropriations and marks a 5.7 percent increase from fiscal year 2019. The appropriations include more than $200 million earmarked for education, up from $191 million in 2019, and $146 million for public safety, compared to $139 million the previous year.

The budget proposal passed by a vote of 7-2, with councilors Craig A. Kelley and Quinton Y. Zondervan voting against it.

During the discussion period, several councilors said they harbored concerns about the budget’s proposals for education, arts, and transportation funding.

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Kelley called both the school budget and lack of funding for new modes of transportation “disappointments.”

“We have vast resources that we are leaving on the table,” he said. “I can’t support a budget that continues to do that.”

Some council members, including Zondervan, E. Denise Simmons, Alanna M. Mallon, and Dennis J. Carlone said they think the Council needs to implement further support for artistic spaces in Cambridge. They all specifically cited the Multicultural Arts Center in East Cambridge.

Though she voted in favor, Mallon said the funding discussions left her with “more questions than answers.”

Simmons likewise voted for the plan but said she had reservations about some elements of the proposal. She said she thinks the school budget does not adequately support African American men, and argued that Cambridge’s school system has “chronically been failing.”

“There are good things, but I am in no way satisfied of what the school department has done, and I hope they hear that loud and clear so that whoever chairs the School Committee and the next term will take that with them and say, ‘You're going to have trouble with the City Council,’” she said. “I'm voting favorably for the budget in protest of the school department's budget, and will continue to do so until such time we have closed the gap significantly for African American men.”

Cambridge Mayor Mark C. McGovern, who chairs the School Committee, took issue with the criticism.

“Although I completely respect anyone's feelings of what they feel they can support or not, I just feel like having been part of constructing this budget, I disagree that this is business as usual," he said. "I think this is this is a budget that has was pulled together in a very different way and directs resources in a very different way.”

City Manager Louis A. DePasquale responded to criticisms about the school budget by saying he can “appreciate the conversation,” but argued the budget represents the best possible plan given the challenges his office faced, including a rising school budget and an increase in paid positions.

“I take my bottom line authority very seriously,” he said. “But want to bring home that this has been a city committed to funding education I feel is second to none.”

Before the Council voted, Simmons said the City Manager’s explanation of the school budget still did not satisfy her.

“Call it what it is, and then fix it,” she said. “Because if we're not willing to be brave and courageous, then we're going to continue to have hundreds of children sentenced to a life of despair and travesty because we could not call it out and then take care of it.”

— Declan J. Knieriem can be reached at declan.knieriem@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DeclanKnieriem.

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