LETTER: Stability, adequate funding needed for Marblehead Schools

This letter was submitted July 30.

I have had a child in the Marblehead Public Schools since 2009. 

When the world shut down in 2020, everything was turned upside down. Not one human made it out unscathed. Starting then, educators across the country and the world have felt the weight and pressure to adapt, adjust and perform magic for kids in person and on the other side of the screen. 

Not everything went smoothly, though; our children faced learning loss, social anguish, mental health struggles and behavioral challenges. 

Business was conducted under pressure, scrutiny and in a very public manner.

The result was a full two years of learning turned upside down. This past year was our first normal school year since the pandemic, and it felt as much, but we aren’t quite there yet as staff and students continue to recover. 

The Vote on Question 1 in 2023 was not meant to be a referendum on Dr. Buckey. The schools needed more funding last year just as they needed it the year before. Marblehead said “NO” to that extra funding and cut thirty-three staff positions. The message to our children, who make up more than 10% of Marblehead residents, is that they aren’t important. Staff will be doing more this upcoming year with less human capital, and the students will be the ones to face the consequences. 

It was circulated that tying freshman sports into Question 1 was coercive and that Dr. Buckey was trying to force peoples’ hands. In reality, this was a group effort involving principals identifying priorities and a vote by the school committee. Every school lost staff.

Hingham’s proposed $7 million dollar override had freshman sports on the bill just like ours, although theirs passed in April; putting freshman sports on the docket is not uncommon or punitive, as sports are non-academic. If you have to cut over $1 million from the tax-payer-funded budget, you’re going to start with non-academic positions.

Of the 33 staff positions that were eliminated, some were unfilled. These were all necessary positions. One of the reasons they were unfilled is that Marblehead doesn’t pay support staff enough. Examples: lunchroom/recess monitors get $11.93 an hour as new hires and Pre-K/ Kindergarten/Special Ed  paraprofessionals make $13.85/hour as new hires. Question 1 was going to address this inequity.

Our students and staff needed that funding, and I worry about the morale of our amazing teachers. It appears that we are now going to be getting a new superintendent. What new initiatives will be brought forth? What new training will be implemented? How will staff have to pivot? How will we pay for the early termination fee?

In July 2005, the School Committee decided not to renew Superintendent Ellen Minihan’s contract after committing to negotiate earlier. She wound up with a payout of some sort, and teachers were left without a contract for months. An interim superintendent was appointed, and the search for a new super was unsuccessful for over a year. In 2013, Super Greg Maass resigned because he felt like his work with the School Committee was no longer collaborative. There was considerable backlash as a result of his resignation. School Committee resignations were called for by one of their own members.

 Two members later resigned, and a third didn’t seek reelection after 12 years on the committee. Taxpayers have paid out a lot of money for people to be on administrative leave or to go away quietly. 

In 2019, newspapers reference that two of our current School Committee members headed the Superintendent Search Committee and they chose Dr. John Buckey.

This is after Maryann Perry resigned with a deal that wasn’t made public after knowingly paying invoices with the incorrect fiscal year, a violation of state finance law; Maryann Perry was granted the privilege of being allowed to retire.

I’m not quite sure what Dr. Buckey has done, and we’ll probably never know why it appears that he’s on his way out. Will these members choose to commit to their original investment, or will they choose to issue a payout of taxpayer money and start looking for a replacement? This uncertainty is unsettling. Finding a new superintendent will take months, and in the interim, staff will be expected to shoulder the weight once again while we all fund the bill. I would prefer to pay for a Veterans Middle School librarian.

Will we repeat history? Certainly, this time is different; we face social media personal attacks, the alleged threat a School Committee member received, blatant accusations against other residents without facts, rumors and even some celebration of the possible termination of Dr. Buckey’s contract. This intensely hostile attitude seems uncalled for; as a mom, a long-time community volunteer and a tutor for MPS, it is distressing to witness.

If the Teachers’ Union is behind Dr. Buckey, isn’t that what matters the most? They know him best. All of the Zoom meetings the past three years have been public. I have been paying very close attention, and never heard that the winning candidates were running on a platform to fire Dr. Buckey.

It appears that our children and teachers are going to be left to deal with the fallout of more decisions that are out of their hands. Our schools are worthy of stability, adequate funding and consistent leadership. Upon receipt of my FY24 tax bill this month, I found myself wondering why our taxes went down. Didn’t everyone say they would automatically increase? As I watch the School Committee meet in executive session and cancel a public meeting, I wonder why they are considering the removal of Dr. Buckey. I fear what additional cuts await the school and town budget, patiently anticipating their proposal for Town Meeting in 2024. 

Most of all, I worry: When will our children and staff be worthy of stability, adequate funding and consistent leadership? When will they be worthy?

Samantha Rosato
Martin Terrace

Letter to the editor
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