Freshman sports will be played this fall, after the School Committee approved an increase in Marblehead High School user fees to fund the program. User fees for students participating in athletics or performing arts are now $495 for the 2023-24 school year, a $12 increase over the previously-announced fee.
“I’m not going to take access away from a couple hundred kids for $12,” said School Committee Chair Sarah Fox.
The family cap for athletics and performing arts user fees will jump from $623 to $800.
The committee advised Superintendent John Buckey to alert MHS Athletics Director Greg Ceglarski that freshman sports will be happening.
“That’s good news,” said committee member Jenn Schaeffner.
The committee also decided to invest some of a $500,000 surplus (from unpaid salaries of teachers who unexpectedly retired or resigned) to fund a review of the district’s special education program. The goal is to identify ways to improve Marblehead’s special ed programs and keep more students in school here.
Fox outlined some of the information she’s looking for.
“Where are we losing students, how can we recoup them and what are the suggestions for improvements in our programs?
“The biggest point of volatility is out-of-district placements,” Fox continued. “What can we do to keep these kids? It’s best for the students and it’s best for stabilizing our budget, which helps every student.”
In the FY 24 budget, out-of-district placements and transportation total about $4.6 million. In a typical year, about 55 Marblehead students go out of district to special education schools like Landmark.
Buckey and Assistant Superintendent of Finance Michelle Cresta were tasked with identifying outside consulting groups to conduct the review, which will need to be put out to bid. The School Committee hopes to interview applicants in August.
The committee did not vote to reinstate any of the 33 school positions cut when the override failed last month. At its June meeting, the committee asked Buckey to have principals and directors come up with a prioritized list of which cut positions could be rehired first.
The school leaders looked at several criteria when coming up with the list, including the impact on: staff and student safety, struggling students, high-achieving students, class sizes, social-emotional supports and student achievement.
The first position identified to be brought back was a Brown School special education teacher.
Schaeffner said it is still possible that the committee may decide to use more of the surplus to bring back laid-off teachers.
Buckey and Cresta restated their strong opposition to using any of the $500,000 surplus. They both proposed keeping the money for unforeseen costs in the special education budget next year.
The two chairs of the Marblehead Education Association, which represents the town’s teachers, also spoke against using any of the surplus to rehire laid-off teachers.
“Our community has asked for transparency and honesty,” said Jonathan Heller, who teaches at the Village School. “Yes, the School Committee has the right to determine the line items of the school budget, but by going back into FY 24 to look to restore cuts that the Marblehead Public Schools and the School Committee told this community would happen if the override did not pass only serves to undermine that transparency and honesty.
“In fact, restoring the cuts will have a greater impact on the ability of the passing of a future Proposition 2 ½ override, funding to establish the goal of providing an exemplary education to the children of Marblehead,” he added.