At a School Committee public hearing March 21, Superintendent of Schools John Buckey outlined a long list of staffing and program cuts that will be necessary under a reduced services budget if voters don’t approve a Proposition 2 1/2 override.
“No one wants to make these cuts,” Buckey said. “We don’t want to eliminate freshman sports. We don’t want to have a middle school that doesn’t have a librarian. We don’t want to see class sizes increased.”
Buckey presented two budgets for fiscal year 2024. The first is the $44.7 million reduced services plan that includes a 1.8% spending increase, but does not require an override. The second is what Buckey called a “level services” budget of $45.9 million that would save jobs and programs but require an override. The Select Board has agreed to include school funding in its town-wide override request, estimated at $2.5 million.
Under the reduced services budget, the district would have to eliminate 33 positions across all schools, including several special education staff, and reallocate or reduce another four positions. It would also cut all high school freshman sports along with the librarian position at Veterans Middle School. To see the full list of cuts, click HERE.
“I want to make it abundantly clear that I 100% support the ask for our level-funded budget,” said School Commmittee Chair Sarah Fox. “I cannot fathom the results of not having level funding.”
Parents weighed in at the meeting, mostly supporting the level0funded plan.
“It’s heartbreaking that there’s even an option that it could be less than that,” said Catherine Martin. “My freshman’s world culture textbook is from 1996. We need curriculum updates.”
Samantha Rosato added, “I’ve had a student in the district since 2009. I’m gutted that Vets might lose a librarian. Our students and staff were asked to make so many sacrifices during COVID, I don’t think like they should be asked to give up anything else.”
Dan Albert asked why the cuts don’t include the superintendent’s office itself.
“I’ve seen a lot of scary things,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything about the central office. One of the most obvious solutions is to eliminate the superintendent and consolidate with Swampscott. I would certainly like to hear how we’re going to gut the central office before we’re going to gut the teaching staff.”
Buckey shared what he called “good news” that Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer will schedule a hearing to request that $350,000 in ARPA funds (federal money for COVID recovery efforts) go to the schools for textbooks, SMART panels, software and more. The hearing would be before the town’s ARPA Committee, which decides how and where to allocate those dollars.
The town was awarded $6 million in ARPA funds. School Committee member Alison Taylor and several parents wondered why the schools have only received about 8% of those, even though the schools make up 50% of the town budget. To date, the town has given the schools $475,000 in ARPA funds, Buckey said.
“If we think we need more, then we should go for it, request it and get the public behind it,” Martin said.
Voters will get their say on the override request at Town Meeting May 1. If the override passes by a two-thirds vote, it will need to be approved in a town election on June 20.
Additional $$$ for capital projects
Buckey also announced that “just today at the 11th hour, I met with Thatcher and the town has agreed to fund our capital requests.” The district asked for $234,000 to pay for capital projects including resurfacing playgrounds, updating exterior lighting, gym padding and a new school bus.
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.