For some, fight for funding goes on despite override loss

With the failure of the $2.5 million override last week, some parents and residents are determined to find other ways to fund the schools and town next year and prevent the loss of more than 30 positions and several programs that have been cut.

Pink slips were sent out to affected teachers and staff on June 23. Freshman sports have been canceled for next year.

Voters rejected the $2.5 million override, but some residents aren’t giving up.

“I personally feel that we have to continue to advocate for what our kids need,” said Sarah Magazine-Yount, who has two young children in Marblehead schools. “There’s a lot of energy in the parent community to get engaged. There’s been a little bit of a wake-up call.”

Resident Jim Zisson believes the town should take another look at its finances, specifically the $3.1 million in unused funds in the FY23 health insurance budget, along with an unexpected additional $500,000 in free cash certified this spring by the state Department of Revenue.

“I think it’s incumbent to go back and look at those numbers,” he said. “Can we solve all the problems with it? No. Are there some specific things on the school and town side to look at? For one, freshman sports. Also, do we want to hire one firefighter this year? It needs to be revisited.”

Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer has spoken out against tapping into any more of the town’s free cash to fund positions and programs cut after the override failure. 

Finance Director Aleesha Benjamin agrees, and she says time has already run out to make changes for FY24.

“Free cash can only be appropriated at town meeting, and it takes at least 28 days to hold a special town meeting after following the bylaw process, according to my understanding,” she said. “The current free cash expires on June 30 and must be recertified by DOR, which typically happens in late fall. Given the time to post and hold a special town meeting and the expiration of free cash on June 30, any changes to the budget would have to have been done at the annual town meeting in May.”

Magazine-Yount is undeterred and said she and other parents are in the early stages of strategizing.

“I would not pretend to have the answer to how, but we should look at every available option,” she said. “I don’t think bake sales and raffles are going to get us there. It’s about working with our town leadership, who I think have a mandate, and really finding the solutions to get to where we want to go… which is an excellent education for every Marblehead child.”

Magazine-Yount ran the unsuccessful “Vote Yes” override campaign, which she says has been shut down. She says she is speaking out now as a parent who is committed to finding funding for the schools.

School Committee Chair Sarah Fox said she was up at 3 a.m. recently “thinking of anything I can do to help soften the blow to the kids.”

A few days later, she added, “I am open to working with any parent or community member who wants to advocate for kids. I need to work with our committee, administration, the town and community to look at all available options.”

Meanwhile, voters elected two new School Committee members, former Glover School Principal Brian Ota and Jenn Schaeffer, who served on the committee from 2016 to 2020.

Schaeffer has said she wants the committee to take another look at the district’s FY24 budget to see if different cuts can be made. 

“The proposed cuts are almost all student-facing staff,” she said. “We need to revise to focus on non-academic and non-student-facing budget items. I will advocate for immediately reviewing the entire budget line by line, taking into account existing student enrollment and focusing on the resources necessary to ensure academic achievement.”

The School Committee meets next on Thursday, June 29 at 7 p.m.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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