Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone pledged to make school improvement the focus of his fiscal 2013 budget, boosting school funding by more than $3 million in what he said is a bid to retain more students and increase achievement.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday before his annual budget address to the Board of Aldermen, Curtatone said the $171.7 million spending plan includes no layoffs, builds reserves, and continues to invest in the city as it recovers from a string of trying budget years.
"We've been stable because we've made politically sensitive but smart and practical decisions to carry us through," Curtatone said at the informal preview. "We strongly feel that [economic] investment will be driven by what we do with the education strategy."
New or bolstered school programs will include the reintroduction of Spanish classes to seventh- and eighth-grade students; an intensive music program for third- and fourth-graders at the East Somerville Community School; four times as many teachers who will undergo summer professional development programs; and boosts to after-school tutoring programs.
"The focus will be around wrap-around services," Curtatone said.
Although he was hesitant to call the school efforts a process of catch-up, Curtatone acknowledged that the proposal to create a new charter school in the city -- an ultimately unsuccessful bid that was denied by the state -- snapped into focus core issues around which a new constituency of parents had coalesced.
"I was here for the first charter school debate," said Somerville School Superintendent Anthony Pierantozzi. "That one split the community. This one united the community."
And in a revision of its enrollment estimates, the city now says that in coming years it expects as many as 500 more pupils to be added to district rolls over the next decade.
"Our kindergarten class in 2012-2013 is the largest we've had in over a decade," Curtatone said. "Our goal is to keep them here."
On the city side, Curtatone has said he plans to hire a new director of capital planning and add one staff person to the department, adding new emphasis to long-range bonding plans.
Also in the works are plans to hire a second full time animal control officer, a forensic investigator, a crime analyst, and a victim witness advocate. The Fire Department is expected to have an added fire analyst.
Curtatone also said he plans to request money from the Board of Aldermen to study how to combine emergency dispatching duties so that residents in trouble who phone the city will have to deal with fewer transfers before they reach the agency that can help them.
By the fall, Curtatone said he will submit plans for roughly $1.3 million in pay-as-you-go capital improvements, and will make amendments to the city's long-term capital plan, which currently stretches to 2016. Chief among the planning initiatives will be an effort to create an extensive preventive maintenance program to track the upkeep of the city's nearly 3 million square feet of property spread over 32 buildings.
Hailing the budget as the cumulative product of years of careful planning, the mayor said that now much of the pain of the recession is over, the city may try to pick up the pace of progress.
"The subtitle is, city's decisions pay off -- or are starting to pay off," Curtatone said. "We have never made a single decision in a vacuum. Even int he worst economic times, we never forgot our values."