Money Watchers: New Bedford schools short $3 million

The school department in New Bedford is short $3 million in its budget.

"It's about a school system that for a long time has struggled to operate in a way that could be described as functioning at all," Mayor Jon Mitchell said.

The budget for the school department is more than $100 million. The system has 13,000 students and more than 2,000 employees.

The system under the last administration used index cards to track attendance rates for employees.

"That system is being phased out" in favor of new computer software, the mayor said. "So, that's what we've been implementing through the course of the year."

The mayor said because of poor fiscal management, more than 50 positions did not get accounted for in the budget, including the salary for the principal at one school.

Also not accounted for in the budget: $1.2 million in salaries, more than $800,000 in overtime, former superintendent Mary Lou Francis's buyout of $240,000, and special education services costing more than $200,000.

"Part of the problem was the left hand wasn't talking to the right hand. So, payroll and accounting really weren't really talking to one another -- loosely speaking -- and that's a problem," Mitchell said.

What happens next? A new software system will be installed and positions moved around, the mayor said.

"We might be looking at stabilization money. We might be looking at reductions in workforce. Layoffs at this time of year really are not that effective because we are too late into the fiscal year for that to fill the gap. And we've got to make sure that this doesn't happen again," Mitchell said.

The superintendent was out of town and not available for comment.