Superintendent of Schools John Buckey cautioned that if the town holds the district to a 1.8% budget increase for FY 2024, 33 staff positions will need to be cut. The current school budget is nearly $44 million.
“It’s devastating to morale,” Buckey said. “People are already asking building principals and directors if they’re going to be out of a job. People will begin looking. I can see people hedging their bets saying, ‘I don’t know if I’ll have a Marblehead job next year so I’ll look elsewhere.’”
Buckey and the School Committee are discussing two budget proposals: one with the 1.8% increase and one that includes requests from principals and directors, which initially totaled a 10% increase. The latter budget would require an override.
“We need to put forth the needs of the district to reflect what students, families and staff,” Buckey said.
At a Feb. 16 meeting, School Committee member Tom Mathers expressed sympathy for the superintendent.
“I can’t imagine how hard this is for you and your leadership team,” Mathers told Buckey. “I just also will have to say — as a new committee member and relatively new to town — this is insanity, talking about a reduction of force, potentially of 33 people in the school district.”
With a deficit on the horizon, the town is considering asking voters to raise their property taxes via a Proposition 2 1/2 override.
Because the override depends on voter support, Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer has said officials “cannot assume the will of the voters.” So he has tasked every department with putting forward more than one budget, including one that reflects a no-override scenario.
The 1.8 percent increase for the schools amounts to the the largest percentage of new revenue distributed to town departments. Still, Buckey says the increase won’t even cover the district’s contractual obligations for FY 24, which total $1.4 million. He is also anticipating increases in costs for special needs programs and utilities.
If the town does move forward with an override, Buckey wants the schools to be considered for additional funding.
“We’ve been very deliberate to make sure that if the town is going for an override, the schools are included,” he said. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a $3 million override for the schools last June.
School Committee Chair Sarah Fox said it will be critical to let voters know how badly the schools need the additional funding.
“It’s really going to be the work that we put into the next option that will get us to what the voters will support,” she said. “And what our students need and deserve.”
The School Committee meets next on Thursday, March 2, at 7 p.m. It will present its budgets to the Finance Committee on April 3.