Marblehead school officials: Question 2 would fund long unmet needs

“I have shared many times, these are the needs of the district — not wishes or wants,” Marblehead Public Schools Superintendent John Buckey told the Finance Committee. [COURTESY PHOTO / MARBLEHEAD PUBLIC SCHOOLS]

In Question 2 on the Tuesday, June 21 town election ballot, school officials are asking to override by $3 million Proposition 2 1/2, which annually limits increases to property-tax assessments to 2.5 percent. 

Education officials say the money is needed to fill a significant funding gap in the district’s $43 million budget that has grown over multiple years. 

QUESTION 2: Shall the Town of Marblehead be allowed to assess an additional $3,051,093 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purpose of the School Department Budget for which the monies from this assessment will be used for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022?

“Years of level-funded budgets have led to holes in our staffing, the deferral of services and educational initiatives,” Marblehead School Committee member David Harris told Town Meeting in May. “Our teachers are working with outdated curriculum and equipment.” 

While Question 1 is a debt-exclusion request, and Question 2 proposes a permanent override. As the Massachusetts Division of Local Services explains, “Once approved, the override amount becomes a permanent part of the levy limit and increases by 2.5 percent each year after its acceptance.” 

In a brief on Question 2, Superintendent John Buckey said successful passage of the permanent override — which requires a simple majority — would increase the tax bill of the owner of a median single-family home assessed at $738,000 by $310.53 annually. He noted that Marblehead last adopted a permanent override in 2005.

Moreover, the $3 million would be earmarked for education spending in fiscal year 2023, but the Division of Local Services notes: “In subsequent years, it becomes an indistinguishable part of the revenue base.” 

On the Town Meeting floor, Marblehead Veterans Agent and resident David Rodgers advocated for seniors on fixed incomes. He pointed out several capital projects in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the town seeks debt–exclusions to finance under Question 1 will benefit the Marblehead Public Schools.

“Hopefully, [Question 1] will pass, but this [Question 2] is not a debt-exclusion override — this is a general override,” Rodgers said. “I am here for the medium-income people of the town. The senior citizens can barely survive.” 

But officials said the failure of the permanent override would have a direct impact on Marblehead students’ education. 

“The longer we defer meeting the full needs of our schools, the more expensive these needs will become,” said Harris. “This much funding has been stalled for many years, and we cannot keep our students and teachers waiting any longer.” 

Addressing oversight concerns, Buckey said the district assembled a strategic plan of spending priorities five years out. 

“We went out into our community and solicited input on what our priorities should be,” he told Town Meeting members. “It incorporates the voices of our community, teachers, staff, families and principals.” 

The district created a list of recurring and one-time priorities that the $3 million would cover in Fiscal Year 2023, including the following: 

  • Safety: $343,000 in one-time costs and $32,000 in recurring costs 
  • Technology: $21,000 in one-time costs and $35,000 in  recurring costs 
  • Personnel: $1,066,281 in recurring costs
  • Curriculum: $184,564 in one-time costs and $70,341 in recurring costs. 
  • Free full-day kindergarten: $375,000 recurring cost. Marblehead is one of the few remaining districts in Massachusetts without tuition-free kindergarten. 

“These dollars will be used to fund much needed improvements to supplies, materials, equipment, textbooks, libraries, curriculum, technology and personnel,” Buckey writes in his brief.

He cited as examples security cameras and radios across the district, a new security system at Marblehead High School, a STEAM program consistent with Massachusetts standards, curriculum coaches to support teachers in curriculum implementation and instruction, and investments in the fine and applied arts.

The priority list includes funding positions across the district, Buckey has said. 

New hires would include an assistant principal shared between the Glover and Brown elementary schools and a technology-integration specialist and a math tutor at Village Middle School. 

“The inclusion of permanent substitutes across the district will ensure continuity and stability,” Buckey added.  “A custodian, a bus driver, attendance clerk and a groundskeeper will enable our current staff who have picked up pieces of unfunded positions over the years to return their focus to their original roles that they were hired to undertake.”

In public meetings as the budget was being developed, Buckey has highlighted the shortcomings of classroom learning materials and supplies. Marblehead High School social studies textbooks “do not have Sept. 11, don’t have the Obama presidency, don’t have the Trump presidency,” he said.

“I have shared many times, these are the needs of the district — not wishes or wants,” Buckey told the Finance Committee.

Marblehead News staff
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