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Requests to implement free all-day kindergarten and to restore four custodians highlight the proposed fiscal 2021 budget backed by the School Committee.
The School Committee voted 5-0 to support a $31,979,636 fiscal 2021 budget – which represents an 8.13 percent increase over the $29,575,250 the School Department was allocated this year.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. David DeRuosi Jr. explained that the budget he presented was built through a collaborative process after he met with administrators to receive input about programmatic and educational needs at the district and school level.
DeRuosi said the proposed budget also reflects ideas from School Committee members regarding their vision for the district.
The budget that DeRuosi outlined on Jan. 23 includes $539,871 in fixed cost increases tied to contractual obligations, $1,104,460 in what the superintendent identified as critical needs, and $844,579 in School Committee requests.
DeRuosi estimated the cost of moving to free all-day kindergarten at $523,259, which includes staffing two additional classrooms and adding another bus.
Other School Committee requests incorporated into the budget include $150,602 to hire four custodians (two at the high school, two at middle school); $75,000 to bring on a technical engineer; $70,051 for a librarian/media specialist; and $75,000 for a grade six to 12 curriculum leader.
DeRuosi identified $84,524 in cost containments to help offset budget expenses through retirements and reducing a line item for psychological evaluations.
Rick Lavoie, a Saugus High School teacher and president of the Saugus Educators Association, expressed concern over DeRuosi’s use of “repurposing” staff as a result of moving to a three-school system.
“When I hear that I think of layoffs or layoffs through attrition,” Lavoie said.
If the repurposing of staff isn’t thought all the way through, Lavoie cautioned that such actions would have a negative effect in the district. He stressed the importance of preserving teachers while also taking steps to meet students’ social and emotional needs.
Town Meeting member Peter Manoogian recommended that the School Department provide documentation on how the proposed 2021 budget addresses issues highlighted in a comprehensive district review of the Saugus school system.
“That report is very much on the minds of parents and the community at large,” Manoogian said.
Selectman Corinne Riley said the board wants to support the school budget. She agreed that the School Department should illustrate how the requested funding ties into the district review report and will help to raise student achievement.
“I plan on going in there with my sleeves rolled up and say we need this money,” School Committee Chairman Thomas Whittredge responded.
Acknowledging the progress the town has made in boosting its stabilization fund, Manoogian suggested that more of that money could go to “Main Street” to benefit the schools, as opposed to keeping someone on Wall Street happy about Saugus.
Manoogian stressed that there needs to be advocacy from both the School Committee and DeRuosi in support of the proposed school budget.
School Committee discussion
School Committee member Arthur Grabowski asserted that DeRuosi needs to provide more information to show how the proposed fiscal 2021 budget will improve student achievement.
DeRuosi said he believed the critical needs in the budget address what the district review report touched on and reflect what the state is looking for.
School Committee member John Hatch said he is 100 percent for having free all-day kindergarten, but that it has to be at the right time and cost.
“There may be other things more important at this budget cycle,” Hatch said. “We don’t know that yet. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Hatch pointed out the School Committee invited the Board of Selectmen and others to be part of the school budget process. The goal is to tear down walls and take a collaborative approach to move the school district forward, he said.
Per the town charter, the School Committee had to vote the school budget by Jan. 31 to forward it to the Board of Selectmen for review.
Town Meeting members will ultimately determine how much money to give the School Department, after receiving a recommendation from the Finance Committee.
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