Marblehead parents weigh in on school budget priorities

At the Marblehead School Committee meeting on Jan. 5, Superintendent Dr. John Buckey will present the results of a recent ThoughtExchange survey that asked residents to rank their budget priorities for the schools. The top three responses: Better staff compensation, updated curriculum and tuition-free kindergarten.

“I’m not at all surprised by the results,” Buckey told the Marblehead Current

Nearly 340 residents took the online survey, which ran the first two weeks of December. Respondents offered 172 different “thoughts” about priorities and then offered 12,202 “ratings” on those thoughts.  

“Hands down, compensation was the top priority,” Buckey said. “We are currently doing a compensation analysis for the next round of collective bargaining that starts January 24. We have good data for how we compare to comparable districts, in particular on the North Shore.”

According to the Massachusetts Department of Education, the average salary for Marblehead teachers was $83,051 in 2020, the most recent year available. The state average was $84,638. You can view average salaries from all districts at

The ThoughtExchange survey revealed that issues that often spark heated commentary on Marblehead social media pages — like bussing, more recess and a longer school day — did not rate high as a priority.

“Extending the school day, which would cost $1.3 million, didn’t rank very high in this ThoughtExchange survey,” said Buckey. “You’d think that people would’ve said that bussing is very much a priority here, but they didn’t. Providing transportation ranked 150 out of 172.” 

Asked if the survey will help district leaders build the next school budget, Buckey answered, “100 percent.”

School Committee Chair Sarah Fox also wasn’t surprised by the survey results.

“People want the basics,” she told the Marblehead Current. “They want our teachers paid well.  They want us investing in good curriculum. And until we can do those two things regularly, they don’t want us to focus on anything else.”

Next steps

Buckey said he and Michelle Cresta, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, are meeting with principals and directors to go over their proposed budgets, “sharing the priorities from the survey to make sure they align with what they’re bringing in their requests.”

In mid-January, principals and directors will present their budgets in two workshops with the School Committee, where committee members can ask questions and offer feedback. 

Fox has asked that the School Committee vote on the FY 2024 budget before it goes to the Finance Committee for review.  The spending plan should be completed by February and will go to Town Meeting in May. The FY 2023 school budget was $43,982,000. 

Buckey said the district will prepare two budgets. The first will maintain the current level of services and the second will reflect “the actual needs of the district to continue to provide a quality education.  We need to increase our budget at the school department level beyond contractual obligations.” In June 2022, voters soundly rejected a $3 million override to supplement the school budget. 

Fox is looking forward to public meetings and hearing from principals and directors advocating for budget items. 

“We’ll hear from the people making the asks and why they’re important,” she said. 

She predicts the School Committee will submit a “place holder for a debt exclusion override as well as an override on the Town Meeting warrant,” which closes at the end of January. 

“In my opinion, we’ve needed an override every single year,” she said. “We’re not adequately funding what the community is asking for.”

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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