Saugus Public Schools could lose 32 positions — in addition to a dozen already planned staff cuts due to falling student enrollment — if the budget recommended by the school board is not passed.
In a community message, Superintendent of Schools Erin McMahon explained how the school department faces a projected deficit of $1,054,823 in fiscal year 2023 if it receives the budget of $30,275,250 before the board of directors. finances for deliberation.
In January, the school board unanimously supported McMahon’s proposed budget of $31,330,073 for fiscal year 2023. City Manager Scott Crabtree recommends the school department get an extra $400,000 next fiscal year, which would bring the department’s allocation to $30,275,250.
Noting that enrollment has dropped by 173 students at Saugus Public Schools since 2016, McMahon told the finance committee last week that she already expects a reduction of up to 12 teachers in fiscal year 2023 through attrition. natural based on declining enrollment.
McMahon warned that the district could be forced to cut up to 32 additional positions, including administrators, paraprofessionals and teachers.
“The impact on our district and our children would be significant,” McMahon wrote to the community. “I know this is concerning and I am not communicating this message to scare our community, but rather to prepare you for the difficult times that may be upon us.”
McMahon cited the ongoing costs of COVID-19, a 45% increase in out-of-district tuition for special education placements and increased spending on special education and regular transportation as financial challenges in what was expected to be a tight budget year.
Because of these challenges, McMahon explained, the district faces a budget shortfall of more than $1.5 million, primarily due to an increase in out-of-district tuition for students with special needs, $548,000 in contract obligations for teachers, clerks and paraprofessionals and a reserve of $570,000 for three collective bargaining unit negotiations and non-unit increases.
“For these reasons, the Saugus School Board has proposed a budget of $31,330,073 for fiscal year 2023 that would ensure Saugus Public Schools has appropriate staff to meet the educational and emotional needs of our students and fund our required obligations,” McMahon wrote. “At the same time, it would allow us to pursue our goal of moving Saugus from the bottom 10% of Massachusetts districts to the top 10% in five years.”
The finance committee takes care of the school budget
McMahon informed the Finance Committee that the proposed budget is intended to address the root cause of school department shortcomings that the K-12 Department identified in a 2019 report. It also aims to fill learning gaps caused by the pandemic, she said.
Finance Committee Chairman Ken DePatto pointed out that the committee is already considering a city budget for fiscal year 2023 that represents a structural deficit of $1,175,000 because one-time funds are needed to balance it.
To maintain existing services and avoid layoffs on the municipal side, City Manager Scott Crabtree recommended using $1,175,000 from the federal American Rescue Plan Act grant that helps communities affected by the pandemic.
McMahon said the additional $400,000 offered by Crabtree to the school department for fiscal year 2023 is generous, but wouldn’t even cover the district’s contractual agreements.
“I won’t have the money to maintain the workforce that I have now unless we get a bigger stipend to be able to cover out-of-district placements and contract obligations,” McMahon said.
DePatto asserted that the level of growth requested by the school department is not sustainable because the tax base does not support it.
School committee member John Hatch said Saugus Public Schools can achieve the goal of becoming one of the top 10% in the state through collaboration with the finance committee, board of selectors and the town reuniting and realizing that there’s not a lot of money in the pot.
Hatch said there was no fat in the school department’s proposed budget, singling out $225,000 to create three dean’s positions — one each at the Veterans Early Learning Center, Belmonte STEAM Academy and Saugus Middle-High School — as the only “additional”.
These deans would help create a culture of high expectations for students and staff in each building and focus on supporting and promoting positive student behavior, McMahon said.
Marc Magliozzi, a member of the finance committee, said he would prefer to see the $225,000 earmarked for deans for substitute teachers so students don’t have multiple free blocks on days teachers are away.
Magliozzi also asked how the budget presented by McMahon correlated with improved student outcomes.
Over the next fiscal year, McMahon said the school department will invest in high-quality curriculum and continue with instruction based on data. Providing a common planning time for teachers will be a goal, she added.
McMahon acknowledged that the supply of substitute teachers has dried up and created issues with open blocks. The school committee is working hard in contract negotiations to find a way to incentivize teachers to be there every day, she said.
The most important factor for student growth is the quality of the teacher, McMahon pointed out.
“That’s why it’s so important that we don’t get into a situation where we’re cutting teachers when we already feel like we’re running a super tight ship,” McMahon said.
Students learning remotely during the pandemic have faced an interrupted level of formal education not seen since 1918, McMahon said.
Over a two-year period, the children had to learn to read on a computer, McMahon said, stressing that she didn’t want to see the students negatively affected because the city was unwilling to invest at a critical time of pandemic-influenced learning gaps. .
DePatto said the school department’s fiscal year 2023 budget is a rolling number that will not be determined until the final allocation is voted on in the town hall.
McMahon warned that Saugus would not be viable as a community if it failed to invest in ensuring that children affected by the pandemic learn to read and write over the next few years.
“If you really want to give Saugus his chance to go from where he was to where he can go, this is the year to invest,” McMahon said.