budget

Peabody may lack guidance

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY The loss of two high school guidance counselors will have a major impact on student services, according to department staff.

This week, the School Committee held a public hearing before approving the $71,894,793 2017-18 school budget. Cuts in the budget include trimming the number of guidance counselors at the high school from seven to five.

“Guidance counselors are a vital part of what happens and of the support that students get at Peabody High School,” said Antonio Braganca, the head of the high school guidance department.

Cutting the two positions would increase the caseload for each high school counselor from 240 to 305, said Braganca.

“I believe the proposed cuts would jeopardize the upcoming PVMHS accreditation and the current coordinated program review,” said the 36-year veteran of the Peabody schools. “The decreased staff in guidance does not make sense to me.”

Bucchiere Park offers warm-weather fun

Guidance services are more complicated than they have been in past years, and include mental health services that students might not be able to get outside the schools, Braganca said.

Michaline Hague, head of the high school’s English department, agreed.

“We have found that in our classrooms, we have many more students with social and emotional concerns and they need to go to their guidance counselors,” said Hague. “We need to keep staff here. There are definite reasons that students need to leave the classroom when they suddenly have an anxiety attack or a panic attack. Those are things that have not remotely occurred except in recent years.”

Will English is one of the two high school counselors expected to not make the cut for 2017-18. He said he has a strong support network and expects to find another job, but that he has concerns about how the cuts will affect students.

“Mental health issues are on the rise and schools are increasingly the safety net,” said English. “For many of my students, this cut will mean their third guidance counselor in three years. Counseling is a relationship-based undertaking, and I strongly encourage you to reconsider this.”

School Committee member Brandi Carpenter said she also has concerns about the cuts to high school guidance, but noted that putting together the school budget is difficult.

 

Nicholson seeks 2nd school committee term

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Cindy Rodriguez and Jianna DeFranzo chat with Jared Nicholson after he announced his bid for a second term.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — Jared Nicholson, a member of the School Committee, is running for a second two-year term, and officially kicked off his campaign on Wednesday.

Nicholson, 31, an attorney, laid out his reasons for running for reelection to a crowd of supporters and other elected officials at Rincon Macorisano.

“I plan to raise a family here and I want to send my future kids to great public schools, and I want to be a part of the effort to make sure that our city has great public schools to offer,” he said.

Nicholson said he believes in the potential Lynn has, and in order “for us to reach that potential, we need to make sure that all of our kids reach their potential,” which has to take place in the public schools. He said that would be achieved by getting the kids in schools now the skills they need to thrive, and attracting and retaining families who have a lot to contribute and are looking at the schools and deciding where they want to live.

Barking up the right tree

Nicholson said the district needs to continue to find more opportunities for kids to find their passion after school, highlighting its achievements with the wrestling program at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, the early college program with North Shore Community College, and important programs in IT and healthcare added at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute.

Some challenges the district faces, he said, include the dropout rate (listed as 4.9 percent for all grades in the 2015-2016 Massachusetts Department of Education report), sorting out the budget, and finding the space needed for schools.

Including Nicholson, 13 people have taken out papers to run for school committee, including incumbents, Donna Coppola, John Ford, and Lorraine Gately, and challengers, Jordan Avery, Cherish Casey, Brian Castellanos, Gayle Hearns-Rogers, Sandra Lopez, Natasha Megie-Maddrey, Jessica Murphy, Michael Satterwhite, and Stanley Wotring Jr.

Long-time incumbents, Maria Carrasco and Patricia Capano, vice-chair, are not seeking re-election.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Medford could become park place

By STEVE FREKER

MEDFORD — With registration for this summer’s recreation program now opening with 20 athletic and hands-on activities, Mayor Stephanie M. Burke is already making her case for a full time Recreation Department.

“In the winter of 2017, over 1,300 people responded to a survey designed to gather feedback about what our community wants to see in a Recreation Program in Medford,” Burke said.

Public forums have been held on the topic, along with the survey and a task force has met multiple times. Burke included a line item in the municipal budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, and says she is hoping it is backed by the Medford City Council.

“We’re excited to incorporate feedback we got from our survey into our summer program,” the mayor said. She said she hoped the Recreation Department proposal is supported, allowing the city to “offer year-round programming and will further incorporate the important feedback from the community gathered in the survey.”

Swampscott rail trail leads to the polls

This summer’s municipal recreation program offerings, based on ideas from surveys collected, could bolster support for a full-time department.

Returning this summer is the six-week Parks Program, which features a new format. From July 10 to August 18, there will be a city-staffed park featuring activities for youths ages 5-17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday.

This year, all activities will take place in a different single park throughout Medford each week, bringing all youth together in one location. Park locations include Harris, Barry, Carr, Tufts, Morrison, and Playstead Park. Free lunch will be offered to all those under age 18 at all of the parks except Playstead.

In addition to the staffed park activities, specialized clinics and camps are being offered in sports including soccer, flag football, softball, swimming, and others for ages 3 to adults. Other non-sports activities for ages 5-14 will include computers, filmmaking, Lego workshops, and rocket making.

Burke urged all Medford parents and residents to check out the offerings this summer. For more information, call 781-393-2486 or request information via email at medfordrecreation@medford-ma.gov.

 

Schools come up $800K short in Saugus

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Town Meeting members passed an $80,397,000 town budget that includes $28.5 million for the School Department, leaving a gap of more than $750,000.

The School Committee originally requested a $29.6 million budget and Town Manager Scott Crabtree came back with a recommendation for $1.6 million less. After making adjustments to the department’s critical needs, Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi said the district would still face a $900,000 shortfall.

Ultimately, residents supported the Finance Committee’s recommendation, which reduced the shortfall by $100,000.

The decision will leave the School Committee to vote on cost containments presented by DeRuosi that include closing the Ballard Early Childhood Center and moving the students to the Veterans Memorial Elementary School. Relocating the program would save the district between $140,000 and $145,000, he said.

The Ballard students would use two classrooms and a first and a third grade class would see an increase in size to 27 and 28 students. DeRuosi plans to allow parents to opt to send their children to other schools with smaller class sizes and expects the numbers will drop by the start of the school year.

Man robbed walking home from work

The plan also includes not replacing seven retiring employees — six teachers and a nurse — and cutting one elementary school teacher. Six paraprofessional positions would also be eliminated to save the district between $98,000 and $114,000.

A custodian and clerk who work at Ballard will be transfered to fill open positions from retiring employees at Veterans Memorial. The Ballard nurse will move to the high school to fill one of two vacant positions. A second vacant nursing position will not be filled. A kindergarten teacher at Veterans Memorial will be moved to fill an open position at Lynnhurst Elementary School.

A Municipal Town Department Operating Budget of $51,822,000 was also passed. The budget includes a $6.7 million allocation for the Saugus Police Department, $4.9 million for the Fire Department, $4.5 million for the Department of Public Works, $211,000 for the Department of Planning and Economic Development, and $641,000 for the Saugus Public Library.

Among the highest salaries are the chief of police at $160,000; the fire chief at $146,000; the town manager at $128,000; and the deputy fire chief at $116,00.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

 

Council overrides mayor’s meal tax veto

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Days after Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy vetoed the local option meals tax, the City Council overrode the mayor’s action by a 10-1 vote.

In a special council meeting Tuesday, the panel quickly dispensed with the mayor’s veto saying the city needs the money and they need it now. By taking the action this week, it ensures the tax will go into effect on July 1.

“This is a necessity, this budget deficit is enormous,” said Brian LaPierre, city councilor-at-large, in an impassioned speech. “Statewide, $60 million has been raised by this commonwealth and I’m tired of these games where a few cents on a cup of coffee warranted a veto.”

City Councilor-at-Large Daniel Cahill said every Lynn resident pays this tax when they leave the city to eat out. He chided Kennedy for her willingness to raise fees and the cost of parking ticket, but not support a modest increase in buying a meal.

“The citizens of Lynn deserve proper public safety,” he said. “It’s a no brainer.”

In her veto letter to the council, the mayor said she is well aware the city is facing a structural deficit in the budget.

Learning a family affair in Lynn

“The council leadership and I are working diligently to craft a package of measures that will close this deficit at minimum cost to taxpayers with an aim to preserve jobs by everyone employed by the city,” she wrote. “But I do not support the creation of a meals tax as one of the remedies to the deficit.”   

Earlier this month, the council voted 10-1 to impose a .0075 percent tax on top of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax on meals. The new levy would add 75 cents to a $100 dinner bill, about 19 cents to a $25 meal and raise $700,000 annually for the city.

The Legislature authorized communities to add the new fee on meals in 2009. While the sales tax goes to the general fund, the local option is given to the community to spend as it wishes. About half of the state’s cities and towns have adopted the change and have raised nearly $652 million.

Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi was the sole vote to uphold the veto. He had argued that the new revenue be designated toward public safety.

“But the city said they can’t do that and I can’t support it,” he said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

State OKs $150K for algae cleanup

By THOMAS GRILLO

Lynn and Nahant’s beaches should smell a lot sweeter this summer, thanks to a decision by the Baker administration to spend $150,000 for algae cleanup.

In an effort to balance the state budget, Gov. Charlie Baker trimmed the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s  (DCR) budget in December by nearly $6 million. He also vetoed $50,000 in spending that was earmarked for the weed removal. As a result, it appeared the deadly smell that has plagued the area’s beaches would return.

But lobbying by the Lynn and Revere delegation and advocacy groups caused Baker to reconsider.

“The governor is very supportive of algae removal and we will continue to do it and figure out a way, as a department, to cover the cost,” said Susan Hamilton, DCR’s director of park operations.

On the chopping block was a DCR-funded algae removal program that has been in place for more than a decade. It  operates from April through November in Lynn and Nahant. DCR trucks collect the algae from the beaches and deliver it to a landfill.

Marblehead resident pledges $5M to NSMC

At a packed hearing at Lynn Museum/LynnArts Tuesday, the Metropolitan Beaches Commission co-chairs Sen. Thomas M. McGee (D- Lynn) and Rep. RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere) hosted an evening to discuss beaches in Lynn, Swampscott, and Nahant.

In an interview prior to the session, McGee said he is certain that lobbying and meetings with Baker administration staff was essential in getting the administration to reverse course.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) who had joined McGee to secure annual funding for beach cleanup, said the algae removal is a quality of life issue.

But not all the news was good. Kelly Coughlin of Stony Brook Partners reported the findings of King’s Beach in Lynn and Swampscott for water quality to be among the lowest in the region with a grade of 83 percent for swimming. In contrast, two South Boston beaches consistently scored at the top of the list with perfect scores of 100 percent.

Bruce Berman, a spokesman for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, credited McGee, Vincent, the Friends of Lynn & Nahant Beach, state Reps. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead), Dan Cahill (D-Lynn) and Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) for working to maintain DCR’s budget.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Meeting to consider Saugus school vote

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is a rendering of a possible new school in Saugus.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS Town Meeting members will be asked Tuesday to decide whether residents will hit the polls on June 20 to vote on a new middle-high school.

The School Building Committee recently approved a total project budget investment of $186 million, which includes an investment of $160 million for a proposed grades 6-12 combination middle and high school.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will reimburse the town at a minimum rate of 53 percent which is expected to increase of eligible approved project costs.

In addition, a $25 million district-wide master plan would restructure the district to include an upper elementary school for grades 3-5 at the existing Belmonte Middle School and a lower elementary school for Pre-K through grade 2 at the Veterans Memorial Elementary School. The master plan is a town project and is not being pursued through the MSBA. The town’s share of the total project would be an estimated $118 million, bonded over a 30-year period.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree said the town’s recently earned S&P AA+ bond rating, which is the highest rating in the town’s history, will save taxpayers an estimated $7.2 million in savings over the life of the bond.

A fact sheet provided by Crabtree details the cost to residents with average home value assessments. According to The Warren Group, in March, the median home value in Saugus was $374,950.

At $375,000, the cost would be $76 in 2018, $118 in 2019, and would continue gradually increasing until reaching $541 in 2024. The cost would then begin to gradually decline.

With a home valued at $300,000, a resident would contribute an estimated $61 in 2018, $94 in the second year, and peak at $433 in 2014. If a resident’s home is valued at $150,000, they would pay $30 in the first year and peak at $216 in 2024.

On June 20, voters will need to approve both ballot questions for either initiative to move forward, Crabtree said.

The first question will ask residents to support the middle-high school building. The 270,000-square-foot school will have a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, 750-seat auditorium, capacity for more than 1,300 students, state-of-the-art science labs, a sports complex, walking paths, and student gardens.

Students lend voices to Memorial Day

The second question will ask residents to support the District-Wide Master Plan Solution, which will provide money to renovate and improve the Belmonte Middle School and Veterans Memorial School to be reused as the town’s only upper and lower elementary schools.

Town Meeting Members will also vote Tuesday on the School Department’s budget. Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi proposed cuts to the School Committee on Thursday that would make up for a potential $900,000 gap.

The School Committee voted a $29.6 million budget but the Finance Committee is supporting Town Manager Scott Crabtree’s recommendation for $1.6 million less. After making adjustments to the department’s critical needs, DeRuosi said the district would still face a $900,000 shortfall.

To help close the gap, DeRuosi proposed closing the Ballard Early Education Center, which has several curriculum-based preschool classes, about five of which are integrated classes of both regular and special education.

This year the school has 118 children, though some are half-day and part-time students. Moving the program would save the district between $140,000 and $145,000, he said.

He originally suggested relocating the more self-contained classes to Saugus High School and the more inclusive classes to Veterans Memorial Elementary School but parents didn’t agree that a high school setting was the best place for their children.

He recrafted the plan, moving all children to Veterans Memorial instead. The Ballard students would use two classrooms and a first and a third grade class would see an increase in size to 27 and 28 students. He plans to allow parents to opt to send their children to other schools with smaller class sizes and expects the numbers will drop by the start of the school year.

Krista Follis, who has a 4-year-old son at Ballard, said she appreciates the changes DeRuosi has made to the plan but feels very uneasy going into June without knowing where her son will attend school.

A custodian and clerk who work at Ballard will be transfered to fill open positions from retiring employees at Veterans Memorial. The Ballard nurse will move to the high school to fill one of two vacant positions. A second vacant nursing position will not be filled. A kindergarten teacher at Veterans Memorial will be moved to fill an open position at Lynnhurst Elementary School.

“There will be a time that the early education center will not be in a stand alone building, it will be part of a Pre-K to (grade) 2,” said DeRuosi. “We’re making those moves now.”


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemilve.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

Peabody lays off on initial job-cut fears

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — It was a night of hard choices and lots of math for the School Committee this week as they made the final decisions on the 2017-18 school year budget.

A public hearing on the nearly $71.9 million school budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 6 at 7:30 p.m.

At the most recent budget hearing Tuesday night, the committee added back several positions that had been cut from the budget initially presented by Interim Superintendent Herb Levine earlier this month. Those additions were the result of several cuts recommended by Levine, as well as an additional $108,000 added back into the budget by Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr.

“This is one of the hardest times we have when we are weighing one position versus another,” said School Committee member Brandi Carpenter.

Earlier this month, Levine presented a budget of close to $70 million for Fiscal Year 2018. To meet that number, the superintendent proposed cutting about 15 teaching positions from the schools, nearly half of which would have come through retirement or vacancies.

First-graders salute Memorial Day heroes

But Bettencourt added an additional $1.5 million into the budget, and last week, the School Committee made use of those funds to bring back a handful of teaching positions, primarily at the elementary levels, including a third grade teacher at the Center School and physical education and health department heads at the elementary and secondary levels.

Committee members also added back about $50,000 in funds for supplies and textbooks that Levine had recommended cutting from the budget to help make up a potential shortfall.

“Many of our teachers are already spending so much out of their pockets every year for supplies,” said committee member Joseph Amico.

As School Committee member Jarrod Hochman made the majority of motions regarding the final trimming of the budget, he said they were all made with one goal in mind.

“We have the most value by having teachers in front of the students,” he said. “These are hard decisions, but they are worth it if we can put a teacher back in front of students at the Carroll or Center School.”

Ehrlich: Tax credit will earn income for state

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

BOSTON — State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) believes a budget recommendation she co-sponsored for Fiscal Year 2018 will benefit working families and domestic abuse survivors.

The bill draws on legislation filed by Ehrlich and Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge), making nonresidents of the state ineligible to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.

According to the Department of Revenue, there are more than 20,000 nonresidents who earn income tax in the state and claim the state EITC each year. With the former federal match rate of 15 percent, these claims have been estimated to cost more than $6.5 million in revenue each fiscal year. At the new match rate of 23 percent, the cost would be about $10 million in revenue each year, according to House Ways and Means estimates.

“This credit is a scarce state resource available to assist struggling working families, so it makes little sense that we are allowing people who do not live in Massachusetts to claim the credit,” Ehrlich said in a statement.

The changes also clarify eligibility for taxpayers who live in Massachusetts for part of the year and expands access to the survivors of domestic abuse by allowing them to claim the credit while filing their taxes as “married, filing separately.” In the past, an individual could not claim the EITC unless taxes were filed jointly with a spouse.

Wheelabrator Saugus being taken to court

By supporting the changes, Ehrlich said the state takes the lead by enabling victims of domestic violence, who courageously flee their batterers.

The proposed budget also included a $150,000 allocation for Self Esteem Boston, a nonprofit that supports Lynn-based Project Cope, an organization that helps women in transition through homelessness or recovery from substance abuse.

The amendment was previously filed by former Rep. Gloria Fox but filed by Ehrlich in this session.

Self Esteem Boston provides essential psychological counseling and training for women in recovery from substance abuse problems.

During budget deliberations last month, the House of Representatives approved an amendment made by Ehrlich to dedicate $50,000 of the $40 million budget to clean up the odorous Pilayella algae on King’s Beach and Long Beach in Lynn.

Ehrlich called the funding crucial for combating the algae and its odor, which is a quality of life issue.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

A crisis in care

State Sen. Thomas M. McGee deserves praise for working to address large-scale financial problems plaguing Massachusetts’ nursing homes.

McGee filed a budget amendment increasing the state Senate allocation for the nursing facility Medicaid rates account to $362.9 million from $345.1 million now budgeted by the Senate and Gov. Baker.

Nursing home advocates are begging for help to close a $37 a day gap between the cost of care and the state MassHealth reimbursement rate. They say Massachusetts nursing homes are facing a crisis. It is hard to call that claim an exaggeration.

Half of the state’s nursing homes have less than four days cash on hand, according to a State House News Service report quoting advocates. To worsen the problem, nursing homes face a staff shortage that has more than doubled during the past six years.

Nursing homes are dependent on state money with the News Service reporting that two-thirds of nursing home residents depend on state MassHealth payments for their care. Those sobering, even frightening, revelations point to the need to make nursing homes a top legislative priority this year.

The nursing home crisis affects every Massachusetts resident except, perhaps, the very wealthy who can afford to pay out of pocket for private care. Every family in the state has an elderly member and everyone knows someone who is elderly and trying to make ends meet or who is caring for an elderly loved one.

McGee nurses senior health spending

Nursing home advocates have already highlighted challenges faced by senior care workers to earn a living wage that will attract more talented people to the senior care and personal care professions.

The shortage of qualified workers is a problem related to nursing home finances. It will only worsen as the financial crisis deepens. McGee’s answer to solving the problem by boosting the Medicaid rate account makes sense. But as a veteran legislator, McGee knows his amendment is barely a stop-gap measure to address the overarching problem.

Just as he has advocated for long-term instead of short-sighted approaches to increasing spending on transportation infrastructure across the state, McGee realizes the daunting financial challenges involved in resolving the nursing home spending crisis.

MassHealth costs are the largest spending area in the state budget and identifying the dollars to cover rising healthcare costs is a challenge for legislators and Baker. Solving the problem requires elected officials to look over the proverbial policy horizon and imagine new financial models for nursing care. That vision may require a firm grasp on private sector solutions for nursing home management.

With baby boomers aging into nursing care, broad-minded solutions for keeping senior care solvent are needed now more than ever.

 

Meetings to focus on beaches, state funding

COURTESY PHOTO
A child enjoys King’s Beach.

By MATT DEMIRS and THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — Summer is still a month away but a meeting scheduled for next Tuesday and another for June will focus on area beaches and their state funding.

The Metropolitan Beaches Commission’s (MBC) May 30 hearing at the Lynn Museum, 590 Washington St., starts at 6 p.m. and is scheduled for two hours. A second hearing is scheduled for June 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the State House, room 222.

Topics will include water quality improvements throughout local beaches this summer, as well as algae removal. According to an MBC press release, the hearings will also focus on potential budget cuts affecting free events and state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) beach operations in Lynn and Nahant.

The hearings overlap state Rep. Lori Ehrlich’s push to spend $50,000 to eliminate beach algae — an annual source of odor complaints.

“This funding is crucial to combatting the algae, a long-standing problem for residents and visitors to the beach because of the annual buildup and noxious odor it releases,” Ehrlich said. “The algae is unique to our beaches and just one beach elsewhere in the world, and needs to be dealt with promptly each spring to prevent the smell from worsening through the summer and fall, when it becomes unbearable.”

MBC lead consultant Bruce Berman said legislators are playing lead roles in restoring beaches, especially state Sen. Thomas McGee, who Berman said “has saltwater in his blood.” Created in 2006 by the Massachusetts Legislature, MBC is co-chaired by McGee of Lynn, and Rep. RoseLee Vincent of Revere.

Ehrlich’s push to fight beach algae comes as beach-goers face potential parking fee hikes.

The State House News Service reported that DCR plans to double the fee for parking at Nahant Beach to $10. The Baker administration is hiking the parking fees for non-Massachusetts residents at Nahant and Nantasket Beach south of Boston to $20, the News Service first reported in March.

Gruesome details emerge in double killing

Though he publicly opposes tax and fee increases, Gov. Charlie Baker did not move to reverse DCR fee increases after taking office in 2015.

The News Service reported DCR’s fee hikes were pushed through more than two years ago by the outgoing Patrick administration.

“The previous administration actually raised the rates just before we came in, and so we’ve been rolling out that increase,” DCR Commissioner Leo Roy told the News Service.

He said, “We’re using the rate increase that was previously done by the previous administration, but it hadn’t been rolled out across the state and that’s what we’re doing.”

By July 1, Roy is hoping “we’ll have the whole state on the new rates.”

Roy told the News Service the fee hikes will help his agency increase its retained revenue to an estimated $20 million in fiscal 2018, up $2.3 million over the amount expected in the fiscal 2017 budget. The department is also seeking to make more money from permits issued for use of state parkland, Roy said.

DCR is allowed to keep 80 percent of the revenue it raises, said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton, who told the News Service he expects DCR will raise a total of $25 million — including $5 million for the General Fund — and some estimates indicate the department could bring in a total of $27 million.

Beaches in Nahant, Lynn, Revere, Winthrop, East Boston, South Boston, Dorchester, Quincy and Hull are among coastal recreation areas Save the Harbor/Save the Bay and MBC seek to protect.

According to its website, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s current programs are “designed to restore and protect Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay, and share and reconnect all Bostonians, the region’s residents, and especially underserved youth and teens and low-income families to the harbor, waterfront, beaches and islands we have worked so hard to restore and protect.”

The Lynn and State House hearings will precede publication of a beach water quality study by the Beaches Science Advisory Committee.

McGee nurses senior health spending

By KATIE LANNAN, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON — State Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) is pushing to increase state spending to help pull Massachusetts’ nursing home industry out of a budget crisis.

One of every seven direct care staff positions in Massachusetts nursing homes is vacant, the number of deficiency-free homes has dropped since 2013, and half of the facilities have less than four days of cash on hand, according to advocates seeking more state support for nursing homes.

“We are seeing an erosion of financial support for nursing facility care that is beginning to impact staffing as well as quality resident care,” said Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.

McGee wants the state Senate to match the $362.9 million appropriation in the Massachusetts House’s budget to fund nursing facility Medicaid rates. The Baker administration and the current state Senate budget plan allocate $345.1 million for the account. McGee has filed an amendment to match the House amount.

Gregorio, whose organization represents 417 nursing homes that care for an average 40,000 residents on a given day, said strained finances have brought the industry to a “crisis point.” Around two-thirds of nursing home residents have their care paid for by MassHealth, leaving nursing homes dependent on state funds, she said.

The gap between the cost of care and the MassHealth reimbursement rate is $37 per day, according to the association, which is backing bills (S 336/H 2072) that would bump up rates based on the size of a facility’s MassHealth population. The bills, sponsored by Sen. Harriette Chandler and Rep. Thomas Golden, also fund leadership training and scholarship programs for nursing home staff.

Saugus in the zone

The effort comes as the state is facing a $462 million revenue shortfall so far this fiscal year, and as Gov. Charlie Baker and lawmakers are seeking to rein in rising MassHealth costs — the largest spending area in the state budget — that crowd out other priorities.

“We sink and swim together, and the state hasn’t been able to make the investments needed to really ensure investments in staff as well as resident care programs,” Gregorio told the News Service. “It’s been a difficult fiscal recession for Massachusetts and so during that time we were either cut or level-funded, yet at the same time costs went up for nursing facilities, and we weren’t able to make investments in staff wages.”

The vacancy rate among registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants in the state’s nursing homes has more than doubled in the past seven years, rising from 6.4 percent in 2010 to 15.8 percent in 2016, according to a senior care association survey.

Gregorio said funding and staff levels affect the quality of care a facility can provide, pointing to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data that show 32 percent of Massachusetts nursing homes scoring deficiency-free on annual inspections. That number has since fallen to 16 percent, she said.

According to an analysis by the association, 18 percent of Massachusetts nursing homes have enough cash on hand to cover more than a month of operating expenses, while 43 percent have enough cash for two days of expenses, and 7 percent have between two and four days worth.

“If they suddenly cease to have any payments from government, they have no more than four days of cash on hand. That’s an indication of a distressed system,” said Gregorio, who said an “optimal number” for cash on hand is anywhere from 60 to 90 days or more.

An outside section in the Senate’s fiscal 2018 budget, teed up for debate this week, calls for the Center of Health Information and Analysis to “examine the cost trends and financial performance” of nursing homes in the state, including revenues, costs, trends in payer mix, and operating margin.

 

Help is on the way for Lynn startups

COURTESY PHOTO
Kevin Oye and Trish Fleming mentor an EforAll entrepreneur assistance at their Lowell headquarters.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN In the 1960s, the city’s downtown was a bustling center of activity and there’s at least one person who is convinced it can be again.

Kevin Moforte, executive director of Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll), a Lowell-based nonprofit whose mission is to assist startups, has turned his attention to Lynn.

“The downtown used to be an economic powerhouse and it  offers lots of potential for startups to thrive,” he said. “Lynn is surrounded by many high-end communities, and if the city was revived, could attract them as customers.”

Launched in 2010 by Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, a billionaire businessman, the center has been responsible for the launch of 200 startups in Lowell, Lawrence, Fall River and New Bedford. Now, it’s Lynn’s turn.

“We want to help people in Lynn kick off businesses with a local touch so they’re in tune with the community,” Moforte said.

The nonprofit offers a small business accelerator to foster entrepreneurial growth. The intensive 12-week program promises to prepare entrepreneurs for the many responsibilities they will face, with mentors who have lived the startup dream and made it a success. There are also small cash grants up to $5,000 to help businesses get off the ground.

“Entrepreneurs are talented people with hopes and aspirations, but need help,” he said. “Our training offers the nuts and bolts of running a business: How to define your product, find customers, pricing, when to hire a lawyer,  how to register the business, how to budget and project cash flow.”

North Shore Comic Con on Saturday

In addition, the participants work with mentors, successful local business people who have done well and want to help the next generation of entrepreneurs.

The second way to get help from EforAll is to win a “Pitch Contest” like the one scheduled for June 14 at KIPP Academy at 6 p.m. Set up like “Shark Tank” without the teeth, three winners will receive cash prizes, mentoring and expert training.

Thomas L. Demakes, CEO of Old Neighborhood Foods and William Mosakowski, CEO of the Public Consulting Group, which was founded in Lynn, provided an undisclosed amount of money to bring EforAll to the city.

“Starting a company is complicated,” Demakes said. “So many people take the plunge, but they’re simply not prepared to do what it takes to make a new business thrive. This is our opportunity to give something back.”

Former state Treasurer Steve Grossman, who serves as CEO of Inner City Capital Connections, the nonprofit that assists small businesses, including those that are minority-, women- and immigrant-owned, said EforAll has made a difference bringing startups to life in the Bay State’s older cities.

“They are smart, have lots of resources and they bring together thought leaders,” he said.  “They will help accelerate the startup culture in Lynn.”

Moforte is no stranger to the startup community. Before immigrating to the U.S., he opened a soap company in his native Dominican Republic.

“We made high-end soap by hand with coconut oil, cocoa butter, rum and sugar cane and sold them to tourists for $4,” he said. “But making the soap was only a fraction of what I did, the rest of the time I was chasing lawyers, trying not burn out and sometimes chasing the rabbit down the wrong hole. I wish I had an EforAll.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Budget cuts end Summer Police Academy

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Jeffery Robles, left, and Aratris Chaviano dust for fingerprints at the Lynn Summer Police Academy.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — The Lynn Summer Police Academy has been canceled because of shortfalls in the budget.

The Lynn Police Department posted on its Facebook page Tuesday that the six-week program would not run in the Summer of 2017 because of  “severe budget cuts.” Last year, the academy graduated 47 students from the six-week program in its 10th year.

The free academy is broken up into classroom time and hands-on activities with lectures by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Lynn Police Department. It’s intended to offer teenagers interested in law enforcement real-life policing experience.

It is organized by student resource officers Bob Hogan, Ryan McDermott, and Mark Lee, who work hands-on with the students, and paid for by the city. More than 90 teens, age 13 to 18, applied last year and 60 were chosen to participate. According to the Facebook post, applications had already begin to flow in for this summer’s program.

Beyond Walls neon art lighting on Wednesday

The students, or cadets, learn about Lynn’s domestic violence unit, gang unit, drug task force and identification unit. The crime scene reconstruction unit creates a mockup of a scene and challenges the participants to act as detectives and solve the crime.

The cadets go on field trips and learn from agencies that don’t typically offer such services, McDermott said. A trip to the State House, Gillette Stadium, both Lynn courthouses, Middleton House of Corrections, and a ride on a State Police boat were just a few of the group’s adventures last year.

Police Chief Michael Mageary told the City Council’s Public Safety and Public Health Committee in April his department is operating with 181 officers, down from about 193 in 2013. Based on next year’s budget and contractual obligations, he predicted the trend would continue. Last year, the department downsized to six patrol cars with two officers in each, from six one-person patrol cars and four, two-person cars, he said.

“We hope to bring this program back in 2018. We apologize to everyone who already submitted an application,” the post reads.

For Colucci challenger, youth are priority

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is Eliud Alcala, who is running for Ward 4 City Councilor.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Eliud Alcala has launched a campaign to unseat the city’s longest serving city councilor.

The 41-year-old family counseling doctoral candidate is making his first bid for public office against Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci, who has served on the panel for 15 years.

“I want to represent all of Ward 4 and offer voters an alternative,” he said.

Alcala, the former campaign manager for School Committeewoman Maria Carrasco, said if elected his first priority will be to implement youth programs.

“We should provide career pathways and programs that engage youth in our community,” he said.

He was unsure about the cost of the new initiatives such as an English as a Second Language program he would like to see relaunched at the Ford Elementary School.

McGee: Every morning I’ll wake up determined

“That program helped lots of people and we need to seek grants and be creative to pay for it,” he said.

He has also proposed that the city hire an interpreter to assist Spanish-speaking residents seeking services at City Hall.

“As I knock on doors in the ward, people tell me translators are not available at City Hall,” he said.

Alcala said he did not know how much such a position would cost or how the new post would be paid for amid the city’s budget crunch.

He does favor implementation of the .0075 percent meals tax option under consideration by the City Council that would add about $700,000 to the city’s coffers annually. In addition, he voted to support construction of two middle schools in the special election last month which was defeated.

The West Lynn resident was born in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City where he was raised by his parents who immigrated from Puerto Rico. The family moved to Lynn in 2000.  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Swampscott rail trail on track

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
From left, Camden Alexander, Finn Conner, Lucas Gunther and Brody Laker show their support for the rail trail.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Town Meeting members approved allocating funds to allow officials to move forward with plans for a proposed rail trail on Monday night.

After much debate, Town Meeting members voted 210-56 to approve a warrant article, requesting $850,000 for the design and engineering of the trail location within the National Grid corridor, as well as the legal fees and costs for acquisition of the easement rights.

The two-plus mile, 10-foot wide trail would run from the Swampscott Train Station to the Marblehead line at Seaview Avenue, connecting with the Marblehead rail trail, which also links to trails in Salem.

Officials have said $240,000 of the requested Town Meeting funds would be used to hire professionals for design and engineering costs. About $610,000 would be for acquisition of easement rights, where the town would work with the property owners (National Grid and/or other parties) to secure the rights. This may be done through eminent domain, or by donation/gift of the land.

Eagle lands on Saugus agenda

The Town Meeting funds allocated are not for construction of the trail, which will be paid with donations, grants, and private funds, officials said.

Peter Kane, director of community development, said that the utility corridor is made up of 11 parcels of property. National Grid pays property taxes for all 11 parcels, but doesn’t hold clear title on all of them. Through a title process, numerous owners have been identified, which could include abutters.

Town Meeting members approved a $66.63 million town budget, which includes $28,197,500 allocated to the schools.

Voters also approved Fire Chief Kevin Breen’s request for a $645,000 replacement of a Engine 22, a 1997 Emergency One Hurricane Cab, which serves as a reserve piece. The replacement was among other capital project funding requests that passed.

With the funds allocated, Engine 21, a 2009 Spartan that serves as the frontline piece, would become the reserve piece and the new vehicle would become the frontline piece.

Town Meeting will reconvene Tuesday at 7 p.m., where the rest of the articles on the warrant will be taken up.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Students get a taste of the Real World

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Danielle Coughlin and Devin Lofton register to vote.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — Students from the Peabody Community High School are getting a taste of the real world this week.

Nearly two dozen students from the school met with Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. in his corner officer at City Hall Thursday morning to hear about the challenges and successes of running the city.

“I’ve been mayor now for about five years; it’s a wonderful job but it can be very difficult,” said Bettencourt. “I know things haven’t always been easy for you, you’ve had some challenges. I’m very happy to talk to you about what we do in the city and my responsibilities and what I do on a daily basis.”

The Peabody Community High School educates students with social emotional disabilities in a public day school, and each year, the school holds a Real World Week, according to Craig Macarelli, the program administrator. There are currently 27 students in grades 9 through 12 in the program.

“We set up a week where we talk about life transitions into adulthood, from financial literacy to even car maintenance,” said Macarelli. This week, the students even went into Boston to learn about local history.

LaPierre launching re-election campaign

At City Hall, the focus was on civic responsibility and what it takes to effectively run a municipality with a $170 million budget and 1,400 employees.

“My job as the mayor is to try to move the city forward to make it a better place for everyone, and there are a lot of different parts to that,” said Bettencourt. “My job as the mayor is to be the CEO. I oversee all the different departments, and of course, the biggest one is the schools.”

Bettencourt talked about several current projects in the city, including the revitalization of the downtown and the dredging of Crystal Lake. He also answered several questions from students and teachers about those projects, as well as why he wanted to run for mayor.

“With this job, you can really make things happen, and not all jobs can give you that good feeling that you are contributing,” Bettencourt said.

Community high school student Bryanna Burgess said she looks forward to the Real World Week every year, adding that this year was the first time they have visited the mayor. She said she especially appreciates the opportunity to get out of the classroom and into the community.

 

Marblehead voters make their selection

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Paul Jalbert posts election results.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — The Town Election brought a new member to the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, but also featured a low voter turnout.

Mark C. Moses Grader, chairman of the Finance Committee, was elected to a one-year term on the five-member board. He received the most votes of the Selectmen candidates with 1,899.

Grader has been a member of the Finance Committee for nine years, and chairman for the past five. He is the co-founder and managing partner of Little Harbor Advisors, an investment management firm based in Marblehead. He is married with two sons, who were educated through Marblehead schools.

“I’m very proud and honored to be elected, and it’s the culmination of a lot of teamwork and effort,” Grader said. “I’m just really pleased.”

The four incumbents — Jackie Belf-Becker, who serves as chairwoman, Harry Christensen Jr., Judith Jacobi, and James Nye — retained their seats. Nye received 1,807 votes, Jacobi had 1,783, Belf-Becker received 1,686, and Christensen had 1,535 ballots cast in his favor.

John Liming, a former selectman, was the other challenger, but did not gain a seat after receiving 819 votes.

Bret Murray was the other member of the Board of Selectmen up for re-election, but decided not to run for another term.

A term on the Board of Selectmen is only for one year, so incumbents have to run annually.

Voter turnout was 16 percent.

In switching boards, Grader said he was eager to go from an oversight role to a decision-making and executive role in Marblehead town government.

Grader said his No. 1 priority is to make sure Marblehead continues to be fiscally very sound. The financial health of the town is what makes every other initiative possible, he added.

Belf-Becker, an attorney, has lived in Marblehead for 41 years. She and her husband have been married for almost 43 years, and have two children who have gone through Marblehead Public Schools. She has been on the Board of Selectmen since 2005, and has been chairwoman for nine years, not all consecutively. Previously, she served six years on the School Committee, including three as chairwoman.

“I’m thrilled,” Belf-Becker said. “I’m very grateful to the voters for letting me serve another term … I think that we work really well together as a board and Moses will be a fabulous addition. I think that together, we do a good job for the town and that’s what matters most to all of us.”

Talking the talk about walking the walk

Belf-Becker said she would be focused on collective bargaining agreements, which all have to be renegotiated in early 2018, making sure that all budgetary needs continue to be met, and seeing what projects are coming down the pipeline.

Nye, a Marblehead native, is the president and CEO of National Grand Bank in Marblehead. He was first elected to the board in 2005. His three daughters were raised in the town.

Nye said it was a great honor to be re-elected. He said a fantastic team has been created, with the town administrator, finance director and the department heads.

“The town is really running efficiently,” he said. “I’m honored to keep it moving forward in a fiscally responsible manner. We welcome Moses to the team.”

Nye said the focus is always on the budget, and also said the priority would be on collective bargaining agreements.

Jacobi has served on the board since 2000. While running, she cited the importance of her years as a classroom teacher and a calm temperament that allows her to evaluate situations and listen to concerns.

“I’m very pleased,” Jacobi said. “It says a lot for the incumbents, and I think that altogether, we’re a good team.”

Going forward, Jacobi said her hope was to keep Marblehead the stable town that it is. Sometimes, she said, it’s more exciting to say people want change, but if the wheel is working, keep it rolling.

Christensen has served on the board for about 20 years since the 1990s on three different stints. He has been practicing law in Marblehead for more than 30 years. He is married with two children, and has three grandchildren. He has lived in Marblehead all his life, with the exception a year he spent in the United States Marine Corps.

Christensen was not at Abbot (Town) Hall for results or to comment on his re-election.  

In the only other contested race, Rufus Titus defeated Rose Ann Wheeler McCarthy 1,514 to 803 for a three-year term on the Cemetery Commission.

Other uncontested races were for Moderator, Assessors, Board of Health, Abbot Public Library Trustees, Municipal Light Commission, Planning Board, Recreation and Parks Commission, School Committee, and the Water and Sewer Commission.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Saugus to give streets a facelift

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SAUGUS Town Meeting members zipped through most of the warrant on Monday with little to no discussion.

Town Meeting members voted to raise and appropriate $642,035 for street resurfacing, handicapped ramps and sidewalks, which will be reimbursed by the state under Chapter 90.

Town Meeting also authorized the treasurer, with the Board of Selectmen, to borrow $662,100 at 0 percent interest from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Local Pipeline Assistance Program for designing and constructing improvements to the water pipelines.

Members voted to appropriate $224,212 from the premium paid to the town upon the sale of bonds issued to repair the Belmonte Middle School, which is the subject of a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion, to pay costs of the project being financed by such bonds and to reduce the amount authorized to be borrowed for the project, but not yet issued by the town, by the same amount.

An article requesting that Town Meeting vote to create a study committee that would evaluate benefits and costs associated with Saugus Public Schools providing free, all-day kindergarten was referred back to the School Committee.

Nowicki a circular sensation for St. Mary’s

A revolving fund was reauthorized for supporting recreational programs for the community. Revolving funds were also reauthorized to support the water system cross-connection program, programs and activities at the Senior Center, the Senior Lunch Program at the Senior Center, and the Town of Saugus Compost Program.

The only debate was centered around whether a nonbinding resolution, not listed on the warrant, should be read and voted on. Town Meeting members were torn on whether the resolution, made by another member, Albert DiNardo, should be read.

Ultimately, a vote allowed the resolution to be read by DiNardo, which says that the cost of health insurance for Saugus employees and retirees is increasing at a double digit percentage rate.

“The projected FY18 cost of health insurance for Saugus is $13.3 million of an approximately $90 million Saugus annual budget,” the resolution reads. “Let it be resolved that the Saugus Finance Committee provide the Saugus Town Meeting with an analysis of past health care costs, trends, and provide a three- to five-year future forecast of costs and report back to the Town Meeting.”

The resolution passed after a roll call vote.

Town Meeting will reconvene on Monday, May 22, to take up the rest of the articles on the warrant.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

House passes balanced FY18 budget

By THOMAS GRILLO

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a $40 billion 2018 budget which provides investments in local aid, early education, substance abuse, homelessness, job training, and economic development.

“Our budget reflects a strong commitment to our cities and towns by funding local aid and education at historic levels,” Rep. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) said in a statement. “These along with funds for key local programs will go a long way to improving our neighborhoods, schools, economy, and quality of life in our community.”

The Lynn delegation, which also includes Reps. Lori Ehrlich, Donald Wong, and Daniel Cahill collaborated to secure funding for a number of local programs including:

  • $100,000 for Red Rock Park maintenance
  • $50,000 to support algae removal from Lynn Beach
  • $40,000 for Lynn Fire Department equipment
  • $20,000 for arts and cultural programs

“We were pleased to have the support of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey in securing critical funding for public safety, arts and culture, economic development, and our local environment in Lynn,” said Cahill in a statement. 

Moulton rips ‘terrible’ health care bill

Recognizing that municipalities have unique and diverse needs, the House continued to fund local aid at historic levels. The fiscal 2108 budget increases so-called unrestricted aid by $40 million and local education aid by $106 million.

The increase to Chapter 70 guarantees every school district will receive a minimum of $30 per pupil next year. The budget also provides school employee health benefits through a $31 million investment. It also adds $4 million to the special education and increases our investment in regional school transportation by $1 million.

“As we all know, we are in a deficit, and no one wants more taxes,” said Wong in a statement. “But we are hopeful that we will generate more revenue to do more for our cities and towns.”

Ehrlich said the algae funding is crucial to combatting the longstanding problem for beachgoers because of the annual buildup and the noxious odor it releases.

The budget will now go to the Senate for consideration.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

School spending boost under mayor’s budget

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — The Malden Public Schools will get $2 million more in its budget for Fiscal Year 2018 under a proposal submitted by Malden Mayor Gary Christenson.

The mayor presented his school budget to the School Committee totaling $69,218,947 for the spending year that starts July 1. That amount represents a proposed $1.99 million increase over the $67,388,193 the schools received last year.

Christenson, who serves as the School Committee as chairman, did note the city would have to use funds from its cash reserve “rainy day” funds to make the overall city budget proposal work this coming fiscal year.

“We should not be using what we are using to balance the budget,” he said, adding, “but we should be able to avoid this method in the future.”

He said continuing revenue from real estate growth “shows that Malden is growing and Malden is alive.”

In a change from past city practice for school budgets, the spending plan proposed by the mayor this year has the school superintendent’s endorsement. In past years, superintendents presented separate budget figures.

Spring cleaning in Nahant

During all five years of former Superintendent David DeRuosi’s tenure, the school budget proposal number from the superintendent came in higher than the figure proposed by the mayor.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Charles Grandson IV said cooperation was the key to getting a meeting of the minds with Christenson on school spending.

“We worked together to get to the figure we feel is needed (for the school budget),” Dr. Grandson said.

The School Committee’s budget subcommittee will meet three more times in the next three weeks to review the mayor’s budget proposal before submitting it for approval to the Malden City Council.

Christenson said the proposed school budget includes one large budget line item that was unexpected and factored into the budget.

He explained that $1.7 million had been budgeted for special education transportation expenditure. But that contract had expired with local provider Malden Transportation and the company’s new proposal was a three-year contract at $3 million per year.  The mayor said as a stopgap, a one-year, $2.55 million contract had been been negotiated with that company.

He told the committee on Monday that the school spending proposal follows state-mandated net spending guidelines.

Tradition comes to a ‘head

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — The town clerk position will remain elected, as Town Meeting rejected a proposal to change the position to an appointed one on Monday night.

Town Meeting was dominated by the citizens petition centered around the town clerk position, and was relatively routine before the proposal was up for debate.

The petition was defeated 389-166, keeping the position elected, but the matter wasn’t easily resolved.

A petition from 12 voters before Town Meeting requesting that the vote be conducted by secret ballot was honored, meaning that hundreds of members voted individually by paper ballot, which then had to be counted.

Town Clerk Robin Michaud was against the proposed change, which if approved, would have then went on the town election ballot as a referendum in May 2018. It would have gone into effect in May 2019, if it had passed Town Meeting and a ballot initiative.

Michaud also spoke against the article at Town Meeting, saying that if the position was appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the clerk would be pressured to do what they want in order to keep his or her job.

She had previously argued that the position is the chief election official for the town, and should stay independent. Michaud said previously that elected town clerks have served Marblehead and towns through the Commonwealth for hundreds of years, and in a town full of tradition, “we should keep this tradition too,” one that has stood the test of time because it works.

Several Town Meeting members spoke against the proposal, with one urging a “no” vote in order to preserve the history and tradition.

Charles Gessner, the sponsor for the petition, said he thought the change would improve the efficiency of the town clerk’s office.

Saugus Town Meeting is at play

Without any discussion, Town Meeting members approved an $89.2 million budget, including a $36.5 million figure for the schools.

Three other citizens’ petitions had also garnered some attention leading up to Town Meeting.

Voters gave their approval to accepting Tioga Way as a town or public road. Only public ways are eligible for state Chapter 90 funds to repair and resurface local roads, Town Administrator John McGinn said previously.

Another petition requesting funds for holiday donations was indefinitely postponed, after the sponsors withdrew their motion, citing the recent approval by the Board of Selectmen to create a donation fund, upon the request of the Chamber of Commerce. With the fund, people can make freewill donations payable to the town of Marblehead, which would go into that fund and be available for the purchase of holiday decorations.

A fourth citizens’ petition passed, which was asking the town to support a resolution supporting state and federal legislation that provides greater transparency in political donations and limits the influence of money in politics, and requests state and federal representatives to pass such legislation.

The effort is part of a larger movement by Represent.Us, a grassroots campaign based in Florence, that is aimed at stopping political bribery, ending secret money and fixing broken elections.

Bonnie Grenier, one of the sponsors of the petition, said previously the resolution is nonbinding and doesn’t become law, but would represent the voice of the people, and would strongly encourage elected officials at the state and local level.

Speaking in favor of the article on Monday, she said it would enhance transparency in political fundraising and campaign spending, and is aimed at restoring government that truly represents, we the people. If there’s going to be change, she said it falls to the people to act.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Time to prioritize in Lynn

It’s been a tough two months for city Police Chief Michael Mageary who has seen his officers and detectives respond to four homicides, including two deadly daylight shootings. To be sure, the four incidents were unrelated and some arrests have been made, with the suspect in the Central Square shooting on Easter still at large.

With recent violence in mind, City Councilors invited Mageary and Fire Chief James McDonald to council committee meetings on Tuesday to discuss “recent public safety issues.” It is not surprising the exchange between the elected officials and the public safety leaders focused on spending.

Mageary said the Police Department has 181 officers today compared to 193 in 2010. McDonald, a career public safety officer like Mageary, said Lynn’s eight aging fire stations need to be replaced.

In a perfect world, public safety gets top priority and somehow tax dollars pay to put a police officer on every corner and a firehouse in every neighborhood. That is not reality and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy made it clear she is struggling to make sure the city complies with burdensome state school spending formulas even as she tries to spend more money on police and fire departments.

There was a time 25 years ago when the federal government opened the spending spigot and sent a flood of money into Lynn and other cities. The money paid for police officers and firefighters and innovative policing programs that put cops on bicycles and on foot in neighborhoods.

Immigrant-worker march set for Monday

In the last 15 years, public safety departments in communities across the state have turned to grant money to hire new officers and firefighters. The problem with grants is that communities eventually have to incorporate the hires into their salary budgets once the grant money runs out.

Putting a cop on every corner could not have guaranteed a murder-free March and April in Lynn. But a heightened sense of police protection helps residents feel they are safe and gives them more opportunities to work with police to point out potential problems, including properties where drug dealing might be taking place, or playgrounds where gangs may be trying to stake out turf.

Mageary knows all about police work and he has seen budget shortfalls come and go during his career. He knows that some of the most effective police work often takes place behind the scenes and out of public view. Coordinated efforts to crack down on drug dealers and gangs can take months to plan with multiple law enforcement agencies involved.

Efforts to pull guns off streets and reduce violence also involve agencies working in many different communities and, sometimes, across state lines to get results.

It is often said that spending less means working smarter. Kennedy, Mageary, McDonald and the council should meet often during the next several months and develop a city budget for the spending year that starts on July 1 filled with strategies for addressing Lynn’s public safety priorities.

2 incumbents out in Swampscott

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Michael McClung photographs the election results as Laura Spathanas looks on.

SWAMPSCOTT — The Town Election had a low voter turnout on Tuesday, but featured two upsets, with the chairs of the Board of Health and the Trustees of the Public Library losing their seats.

Emily Cilley, a registered nurse, defeated Martha Dansdill, 678 to 579 for a seat on the Board of Health. Dansdill is the current chairwoman on the board, which she has been on for three terms and nine years.

Herrick Wales, a schoolteacher in Marblehead and chairman of the Library Trustees, was defeated by Ellen Winkler, an attorney in Marblehead and president of Friends of the Swampscott Public Library. Winkler, who was elected for a three-year term, received 619 votes to 567 for Wales.

The third contested race on the ballot was for School Committee, which saw the two incumbents, Suzanne Wright and Gargi Cooper, retain their seats for a second, three-year term, holding off a challenge from Melissa Camire. Wright was the top vote getter, receiving 876 votes, Cooper received 774 votes, while Camire had 524 votes.

Voter turnout was 13 percent.

“It’s been my privilege to serve on the Board of Health for these nine years,” said Dansdill, the former executive director of HealthLink, a North Shore environmental nonprofit organization, who now serves on its Board of Directors. “I wish Emily Cilley much success on the board.”

Cilley, who works for Northeast Clinical Services and as a substitute nurse in town, said she felt “amazing” after winning a seat on the board, and that she didn’t know what to expect before the results. She said she felt nervous, as Dansdill has been on the board for a long time, but was delighted.

Cilley, who was elected to a three-year term, said two issues she would be focused on are the opioid crisis and the health of the children in town. As a substitute nurse, she said she sees children in the schools, and gets to see all of the concerns happening.

“I want to focus on the health of our children and making sure we are aware of what their stresses are,” Cilley said.

When running, both Library Trustee candidates said it was an exciting time for the library, which is in the midst of its yearlong centennial celebration. The building on Burrill Street turned 100 on Jan. 20. The Friends group finances library programs and is funding the celebrations. Winkler said she would have to step down as president for her new role, but could remain a member of the Friends group.

“That’s wonderful,” Winkler said upon hearing the results. “I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m really glad.

Transforming the city’s waterfront

“I hope people will continue to celebrate the library this year and pay attention to what a great resource it is,” Winkler continued. “I look forward to working with people and making great plans for the future.”

She said her focus would be on figuring out how to use the library space in the best way possible.

“I want to congratulate Mrs. Winkler on her election as Library Trustee,” said Wales, who was running for a second, three-year term. “She is an avid supporter of the library and she will devote her energies and talents to further enrich our great library.”

Wright said she was excited to be re-elected to School Committee. She said her focus would be on facilities, a technology plan for the schools, a new school building, and getting the budget under control.

Superintendent Pamela Angelakis recently submitted two statements of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, one for replacement of Hadley Elementary School and the other with the intent to renovate Swampscott Middle School.

Cooper said she was happy and excited, and grateful for the votes and support from the community. To move the school district forward, she said continuity on the board is the best way. For her next term, she said her focus would be on technology, facilities and stabilizing the budget.

In an uncontested race for Board of Selectmen, Naomi Dreeben and Laura Spathanas, chair and vice-chair respectively, were re-elected for a second, three-year term.

“I feel great,” Dreeben said. “I’m excited about what the next three years is going to hold for us and I’m pleased to be working with Sean (Fitzgerald), our new town administrator.”

For her next term, Dreeben said she will work hard to support the school’s vision and plans. She hopes to be able to do some economic development to be more proactive about bringing new businesses to town.

Spathanas said “it’s an honor” to be elected to the board. She said she hopes she can take the fact that she and Dreeben didn’t have any competition as people being happy that they are serving them and with the direction the town is going. She said her focus would be on a long-term capital plan, looking at the master plan, and prioritizing what the town needs and wants.

Another uncontested race was for Planning Board. Angela Ippolito, chairwoman, was re-elected for a second, five-year term. The Town Moderator race was also uncontested, with Michael McClung re-elected for a second, one-year term.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Police and fire chiefs ask for more resources

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN —  The city’s police and fire chiefs sounded the alarm Tuesday night about the budget crunch that is impacting public safety.

“The police and fire departments have been ignored money-wise for years,” said Fire Chief James McDonald.

“The schools are not the only city department experiencing growth, what about us? We are doing what we can with less, but it’s not safe.”

Police Chief Michael Mageary said his department is operating with 181 officers, down from the peak of about 193 in 2010. Based on next’s year’s budget that include contractual obligations for raises, he said they will continue to move in that direction.

“We’ve already had to absorb $1 million worth of cuts, reduced many of our preventive programs, cut our investigative services to the bone and reduced patrol officers to maintain our budget,” he said. “There’s no money to be found. Given retirements coming up this year, we could be down 24 officers and that’s significant.”

The chiefs appeared before the City Council’s Public Safety and Public Health Committee.

McDonald said the cuts are not just impacting firefighters. He said Lynn’s eight fire stations need work and some must be replaced. The most recent fire station was built in 1968 and the oldest was constructed in 1898, he said.

“Any repairs or improvements that have been made in the stations, like fixing leaky roofs, have been done by the firefighters on their own dime,” he said.

Mother to mayor: Your comment was hurtful

McDonald said he has sent letters to Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, about the state of the fire stations, and has not received a response.  

“It’s time for them to get off their ass and do the right thing,” McDonald said. “Someone has to say we can’t fix the city’s financial troubles by taking from public safety.”

In response, Kennedy said she has been urging lawmakers to change the rules on Beacon Hill about school spending to allow more money to go to police and fire.

“Every department head in the city has know for years that I have been asking for support to put an effort together to get the net school spending formula changes because it’s inequitable in the way it impacts cities like Lynn that have a growing school population,” she said. “This year, I am required by law to commit another $3.4 million to the schools. I can’t spend it on any other department. It is beyond my ability to give more money to public safety.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com

 

Peabody finds cash to cover safety costs

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — A combination of injuries, special details, and how police officers are compensated through the state’s Quinn Bill resulted in a nearly $1.5 million cost overrun for police and fire overtime costs for the current fiscal year.

The City Council’s finance committee approved pulling that money from various sources, primarily the city’s reserve funds, to cover those costs.

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said the police and fire overtime budgets, along with special education spending in the schools and the city’s snow and ice removal costs, are the toughest budgets to predict from year to year.

“It’s impossible to predict what the number of injuries are going to be,” said Bettencourt. “We give our best guess to what the overtime budget is going to yield, like the snow and ice removal, and at the end of the fiscal year we try to make the adjustments.”

On the police side, Bettencourt told councilors on Thursday that Chief Thomas Griffin’s request for a transfer totaling nearly $750,000 was driven by a number of officers who have been out on duty injury or extended sick leave (including a dozen who have been out for a month or more at a time).

He also attributed the transfer to the need for added patrols and investigations related to drug law enforcement, and dispatcher coverage along with overtime coverage to cover the city’s centennial celebrations.

Landfill extension plan filed in Saugus

Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin raised questions about the $225,000 in additional money requested to pay out how police officers are compensated through the Quinn Bill, which provides career incentives for officers.

“How did you overshoot the runway so much?” she asked city Finance Director Michael Gingras. “That is a significant amount.”

Gingras said that under the latest collective bargaining agreement, police officers can now roll those career incentives from the Quinn Bill into their base pay, rather than receiving a lump sum payment as they have in the past. He said the number of employees opting to take that option was not anticipated.

Normally, the obligations would accrue and be paid in November during the next budget cycle, according to Bettencourt, with some overage in salary and overtime attributed to the timing change.

The $692,000 in overages for the fire department budget was driven primarily by overtime to cover for 14 firefighters who were out for extended sick leave, as well as for a number of major fires the city faced over the past year.

“Fourteen firefighters seems like a very significant number,” said Ward 2 Councilor Peter McGinn. “That seems like a real outlier and I’m not sure how you anticipate for that.”

Election fight looms in Lynn’s Ward 1

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is Ward 1 City Councilor Wayne Lozzi.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Wayne Lozzi, the seven-term city councilor from Ward 1, has a race on his hands.

Courtesy photo

Pictured is attorney William O’Shea.

Two opponents have pulled papers. William O’Shea, an attorney, and Jesse Warren Jr. have set their sights on the post.

“Now that my children are grown and coaching youth sports is in the past, I have a lot of time on my hands,” said O’Shea, 53. One the things that puzzles O’Shea is why KIPP Academy, the city’s charter school, can build a new high school to serve 450 students for $20 million, while the plan defeated by voters last month called for construction of two middle schools for $188.5 million.

In March, voters rejected a 652-student school on Parkland Avenue and a second facility for 1,008 students on McManus Field.

“The city wanted to build one public school for nearly $90 million while a charter school can build it for one fourth the cost,” he said.

O’Shea also wonders why the city’s tax rate rises annually and yet there’s a budget shortfall.

In addition, O’Shea questioned why the city has a methadone clinic on the Lynnway and a homeless shelter downtown.

“We can’t attract new businesses or residents with those things in the middle of downtown,” he said.

Still, he is not sure how to solve that issue.

“I don’t have the particular answers, but as an attorney, I find solutions,” he said.  

Lozzi, 60, who has served on the council since 2004, said he is seeking re-election because he loves the job, and is proud of the work he’s done.

“I’ve accomplished quite a bit as the ward councilor,” he said.  Among his proudest projects, he said, is reconstruction of the city’s parks.

“When I first ran, Gowdy,  Flax Pond and Magnolia parks were in deplorable condition,” Lozzi said.  “Now, we have a new Flax Pond playground, Gowdy was mostly done with private funds at no cost to taxpayers, Magnolia has a fairly new tennis court and Lynn Woods Park playground has been remodeled.”

Lozzi noted that the council’s initiative to move the high tension wires off the waterfront and a zoning change for the Lynnway are key to modernizing the city and spurring development.

North Shore Community Promise: free tuition

While Lozzi acknowledges the city’s financial picture is grim today, he said it’s short term.

“Historically, the city has gone through these phases where we are up and down,” he said. “I don’t want to assign blame, we need to look forward and continue to provide good services to the residents despite these difficulties.”

While the city needs new sources of revenue, Lozzi said he opposed to the imposition of a local option meals tax that would raise about $600,000 annually.

“Raising taxes is a last resort and I’m not sure I would support it,” he said.

Still, Lozzi supported the plan to build two new middle schools by raising taxes.

“I voted yes because I felt strongly that we need a new Pickering Middle School,” he said.

On the question of whether the city will need to lay off city workers to balance the budget, Lozzi said the jury is still out.

“I hope we can avoid them,” he said. “If there is any question about layoffs, that falls onto the mayor’s desk and she has to answer those questions and inform the council and residents.”

Warren could not be reached for comment.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

$82K for Chromebooks among Saugus requests

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Chromebooks for students, pump station repairs, and a new fire truck dominate warrants for the May 1 Annual Town Meeting and a Special Town Meeting.

The Board of Selectmen closed warrants for the meetings. The purpose is to close the special Town Meeting sooner, rather than waiting for the annual meeting to close, which could be as late as June 30, said Town Manager Scott Crabtree.

When the meetings end with unfinished business, they resume to the following Monday until all decisions are made.

The School Committee submitted a request for $82,000 for the one-time purchase of Chromebooks for Saugus Public Schools, which are necessary to comply with statewide computer-based testing, such as MCAS.

Crabtree also included a request to fund Chromebooks, citing confusion about whether the School Department had already requested the money.

“They haven’t identified a source of funding,” Crabtree said. “It’s kind of difficult when you don’t have a conversation with the Town Manager. I also have heard discussions that they may have money within their budget to pay for the Chromebooks.”

Ruggiero put her best foot forward

Town Meeting members will first take up articles that include appropriating money to repair and maintain parks and playgrounds; to design, construct, repair and replace parks and playgrounds and parks; and to make capital improvements to the Lincoln Avenue Pumping Station.

Crabtree said the pumping station, which hasn’t seen major improvements in more than a decade, is in need of repairs and upgrades. He said the existing station is worth about $100 million but is in need of a new bypass. He called the issue a time sensitive priority.

Crabtree is also asking to add money to the town’s stabilization fund. He said he hopes to increase the town’s bond rating to Triple A, so they can pay less interest when borrowing and allow the town’s tax dollars to go further.

“These articles that I’m asking for sort of stay in line with what our priorities are,” said Crabtree. “We’re continuing to take action to build the town’s financial health and stability, improve parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields, and (make) town-wide improvements for our infrastructure.”

The Annual Special Town Meeting articles will follow.

Several articles from Crabtree include a request to purchase a new fire engine for the Fire Department, and to appropriate money for a Post-Employment Benefits Liability Trust. He also wants members to reauthorize revolving funds for supporting recreational programs, and for activities at the senior center.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

Ruggiero put her best foot forward

She didn’t get picked to be Peabody’s next school superintendent, but Harrington School Principal Debra Ruggiero’s bid for the job reflected brilliantly on her and on Lynn public schools.

Ruggiero is a smart, committed, tough and ambitious educator who brought talent and experience to Peabody’s quest for a new school leader. She was the last candidate standing when the Peabody School Committee voted Wednesday to scrap its current superintendent search and keep Interim Superintendent Herb Levine on for another year.

Levine is an experienced superintendent with a steady hand and people in the know anticipate he will mentor an experienced veteran educator now working in the Peabody school system to become a superintendent candidate once a search resumes.

Committee members said they wanted candidates with collective bargaining and budget-building experience. At least one member pointed out the challenges of overseeing a school system with more than 6,000 students, 1,000 employees and a $72 million annual budget.

The Lynn public school’s enrollment, staff size and budget dwarfs the Peabody schools and Ruggiero is well-versed in the school system’s operations. She has literally sat in the front row at Lynn School Committee meetings and listened carefully as committee members and Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham discuss school spending, personnel needs, enrollment and dozens of other topics.

Ruggiero denied Peabody superintendent post

As Harrington School principal, Ruggiero and fellow educators have made the big Art Deco school on Friend Street a place where pride dwells. Ruggiero has fostered a strong sense of school spirit during her tenure. She has supported an annual reading initiative and she takes a no-nonsense approach to education that puts a priority on kids and learning.

She is a strong, maybe the strongest, example of a Lynn principal embracing a principal’s responsibilities as defined by state law. She is clearly in charge at the Harrington and the school’s state assessment test scores speak to Ruggiero’s accomplishments and her ability to expect the best from her colleagues.

Peabody committee members made the safe choice in passing on Ruggiero in favor of continuing with Levine until a superintendent research can resume again in late 2018. Picking Ruggiero would have been a bolder move on the committee’s part. It would have also been a smart one.

Ruggiero has a strong connection to Peabody. She has hands-on leadership experience and it would be hard to find Lynn educators who do not think Ruggiero is a quick study when it comes to learning and mastering skills.

It will be interesting to see if Peabody’s next search for a superintendent yields a strong candidate crop. One or two candidates with superintendent experience are sure to be a perfect fit for Peabody. An associate or deputy superintendent will probably apply and bring strong budget and bargaining skills. Then again, a strong principal like Ruggiero will apply and seek an opportunity to show off his or her leadership skills.

 

Consider the progress we’ve made, Kennedy says

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Donna Coppola, left, and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy have a word during Kennedy’s re-election kickoff.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy kicked off her campaign for a third term Wednesday night at a crowded fundraiser in the Porthole Restaurant.

Kennedy, a Republican, will face state Sen. Thomas McGee in what is expected to be a hotly contested race.  Last month the Lynn Democrat, who has served in the state Senate since 2002, announced his intention to seek the corner office.  

In mentioning McGee in her remarks, Kennedy said the two of them have been in public life for more than two decades and each of them have records that should be scrutinized.

“I hope all of you will base your vote in this election, not on personalities, not on political parties, not on family connections, but on who has done the most to bring improvements to our great city,” she said.

Kennedy became mayor in 2009 when she beat Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy by 27 votes of the more than 16,000 ballots cast. In 2013, she bested Timothy Phelan by a 59 to 41 percent margin.

The mayor reminded the crowd what Lynn was like in 2010, the year she took office. She said Sluice, Flax and Goldfish ponds were infested with invasive weeds, several parks lacked lights for night games, there were few options for seniors to save on their real estate taxes, the General Electric Factory of the Future site had been vacant for more than 10 years, the Thurgood Marshall Middle School was in need of replacing, the Lynn Auditorium had just three shows a year, the downtown was filled with litter, and if teens wanted a summer job, they needed help from an elected official.

“Today, the ponds are clean, Barry Park and Wyoma Baseball Field have lights, there’s a nightly street sweeping schedule in the downtown, we implemented a way for income-eligible seniors to work off $600 from their property tax bills, there’s a lottery for summer jobs, the Lynn Auditorium is air conditioned and booked, the Factory of the Future is the new home for Market Basket, and we built a new middle school,” she said. “I ask for your support as we continue this progress for the next four years.”

I think I can make a difference, McGee says

The event attracted many of the city’s elected officials and candidates for office, as well as supporters.

Elaine Letowski, an insurance writer who moved to Lynn in 2003, said she attended the event because she strongly backs Kennedy.

“She’s good for our city, she says no when you have to say no,” she said. “We don’t have enough money for everything. She’s working on the budget, makes good decisions, keeps our taxes down, and is making Lynn a better place to live.”

Eileen Spencer, a real estate broker at Annmarie Jonah Realtors, said Kennedy has helped revitalize the downtown.

“Judy has done a phenomenal job for the city,” she said. “What I like most of all is what’s she’s done to improve the Lynn Auditorium and that is bringing business to the downtown.”

The mayor’s fundraiser comes one day after a team of consultants told officials that without corrective action, the city’s budget is projected to have an $8.6 million deficit in 2017 and in each of the next five years.

The PFM Group, based out of Philadelphia, provided a grim prescription to City Hall: No raises for city employees, freeze hiring, contract EMS services to a private company, and eliminate 35 city jobs.

Kennedy did not ignore the city’s financial troubles in her speech.

“I want to be real, not everything is rosy and, of course, we have some difficulties, such as balancing the budget,” she said. “But I’ve been quietly looking to officials at the federal level … and I expect to return to Washington in the coming months to meet with the new Trump administration to see what I can do for my city.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Ruggiero denied Peabody superintendent post

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Debra Ruggiero answers questions during an interview for the superintendent position.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — Interim Superintendent Herb Levine will likely serve one more year as the head of the school district.

The search for a new superintendent came to a temporary end Wednesday night, when the Peabody School Committee voted to request a waiver from the state’s Department of Education allowing Levine to stay on for another year because of a critical shortage of qualified superintendent candidates.

The vote means Debra Ruggiero, the principal of Lynn’s Harrington School and the last finalist standing in the committee’s superintendent search, will not be offered the Peabody position.

Committee members praised Ruggiero, but the members were united in saying they were disappointed there were no candidates brought forward with the kind of central office experience they believe Peabody needs. The two other finalists, John Oteri and Arthur Unobskey, were offered the top school jobs in Malden and Wayland, respectively, and withdrew from consideration in Peabody.

“I think the three finalists we had were excellent people, I just think they lacked the district experience,” said School Committee member Tom Rossignoll. “We want somebody with district experience, and that was not offered to us.”

Several committee members also said they believed the search process, which was overseen by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, started a little too late this year to bring in enough qualified candidates.

“I think one of the problems with starting a little late is that candidates were scooped up quickly,” said School Committee member Brandi Carpenter. “If we’re going to do it again, we need to start earlier and we need to think outside the box.”

Consider the progress we’ve made, Kennedy says

Carpenter also said she felt Ruggiero was an excellent candidate, but that she and the other finalists lacked the budget and contract negotiation skills needed in such a large district.

“I too, although it was not the fault of the candidates, was disappointed in the pool,” said committee member Jarrod Hochman. “This is a quasi-urban community with over 6,000 students, over 1,000 employees, and a $72 million budget. We had candidates who did not have experience with collective bargaining, and not one candidate had experience formulating a budget beyond the building or department level.”

Committee members noted that the process next year should wrap up by March, rather than April, in an effort to get a jump on the best candidates.

For Levine, the 2017-18 school year will be his third year in a row as interim superintendent in Peabody. The former Salem school chief was also the interim superintendent in Peabody during the 2011-12 school year.

Levine said he is willing to stay on in the interim position for another year, but that he was drawing a line in the sand.

“I’m not going to work beyond that; I’m going to be 70 years old,” he said. “I’m proud to have the privilege to steer the ship for one more year.”

 

Budget cuts make waves for beach lovers

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN — An algae problem may be blooming along the Lynn shorefront.

In the first meeting of the year for the Friends of Lynn & Nahant Beach Wednesday night in a packed room at 169 Lynn Shore Drive,  the topic for discussion was the impact of budget cuts by the Baker administration on Lynn and Nahant beaches.

State Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Commissioner Leo Roy served as a guest speaker.

“We’re in challenging times. We’re trying to do the best we can with the funds we get,” said Roy. DCR budget cuts totaled almost $6 million for staff and operations.

The cuts may jeopardize a yearly algae removal program that has been in place for more than a decade.

He said funds for algae cleanup, which will begin within the next week, are available to cover the months of May and June. The budget for the new year is not yet finalized, but cleanup funds from July 1 forward have yet to be accounted for.  

The $150,000 price tag on algae cleanup comes from paying overtime for personnel to work along with the tides, as well as disposal services.

Swampscott looks to fill Hadley needs

Friends president and longtime resident Bob Tucker called the cuts a failure of the administration to serve the city of Lynn. He said if the algae isn’t cleaned up, it could possibly lead to the cancellation of outdoor events such as the Red Rock Summer Concert Series and the Kids’ Day Festival.

“This is a gem for us. This is truly the people’s beach,” said state Rep. Dan Cahill, referencing the days before the algae cleanup program. “People would come to Lynn and roll their windows up. It was embarrassing.”

State Sen. Thomas McGee said when he was first sworn into office, the grass along the beach was three feet high and algae was left rotting in the sun.

“I hope you understand the importance of this. It’s key to our economy, it’s key to our quality of life,” he said to Roy.

Roy briefly addressed other topics at the meeting, including the possible privatization of the DCR parking lot at Nahant Beach.

He said the department is considering sending out a request for proposal to determine whether there’s potential for the lot to generate more revenue under different management. No changes have been set in stone, however.

“Unless we can make more money, we won’t do it,” said Roy.   

 

Ruggiero on super post: I have the experience

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Debra Ruggiero answers questions during her finial interview.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — The school committee is down to its final candidate for superintendent, but Debra Ruggiero will have to wait until at least Tuesday to see if she is offered the position.

Ruggiero, principal of the Harrington Elementary School in Lynn, fielded questions from the School Committee for 90 minutes Wednesday night. At the conclusion of the interview, the committee voted to table any discussion on making a decision on the position until its next meeting April 11.

Ruggiero was one of three finalists to replace Interim Superintendent Herb Levine, but over the past week, the other two finalists accepted positions in other districts and withdrew their names from consideration.

School Committee member Joseph Amico said the process has shown how there is a critical shortage of qualified candidates for top administrative positions in the state.

“We had five or six competitive candidates,” he said. “But the two other finalists did go to strong districts.”

Gloucester assistant superintendent Arthur Unobskey took the top job in Wayland, while on Monday, Somerville High School Headmaster John Oteri was offered the superintendent position in Malden.

“I have accepted the (Malden superintendent’s post), pending successful contract negotiations which I am confident will take place,” Oteri said.

On Wednesday night at the Wiggin Auditorium at Peabody City Hall, Ruggiero had the spotlight to herself, answering questions about her leadership style, experience, and how she would handle contract negotiations.

Ruggiero characterized herself as a collaborative leader who puts the needs of the students first and uses data to help achieve the best outcomes for students and teachers.

New restaurants on the mall menu

School Committee member Brandi Carpenter noted that Ruggiero has handled budgets at the school building level but that the district budget for Peabody reaches $70 million and asked her how she would make the jump to handling such a large budget.

“I’ve always included the senior leadership team at the school level,” said Ruggiero, adding that any requests that come before her required data to back up the need. “I don’t want to make a decision just because we think we need something.”

Ruggiero, a Peabody resident, was asked her thoughts on potentially working and living in the same community by Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr.

“Connections make a difference,” said Ruggiero. “If you live in the town where you work, the parents feel like you are more approachable, and the parents and teachers feel like you are more invested in the school system. It is absolutely a positive to be a presence in the city and to be involved in the community.”

In her closing remarks to the school committee, Ruggiero acknowledged that it is a big jump from building principal to superintendent, but said she has the skills, experience, and passion to succeed in the job.

“It’s been a pleasure to go through the process,” she said. “It’s been quite a journey and I’ve learned a lot about myself and how people see me and who I am as a leader. I do have the experience I can draw on for this position and I do have the drive and passion. I’m reaching for the stars, and Peabody is my star.”


Steve Frecker contributed to this report.

For local legislator, priority is the needy

By STEVE FREKER

BOSTON — State Rep. Paul J. Donato has focused his legislative career on human services and put himself in the forefront of debates over programs supporting children and the elderly.

Donato, who was orphaned at a young age, played a key role in a newly-approved $347.7 million supplemental state budget including tax dollars for residents locally and statewide who need the most assistance, particularly those battling addiction.

Elected to a ninth term last fall to represent Malden and Medford, Donato said he supports spending state money on programs helping “our most vulnerable residents.

“We need to invest in these critical areas,” he said.

Donato said the Legislature continues to provide record-level funding to confront the behavioral health and substance addiction challenges plaguing Massachusetts. This supplemental includes more than $2.8 million for the Department of Mental Health.

Ruggiero on super post: I have the experience

Other funding includes $5.2 million for the Department of Children and Families; just under  $11 million for the Department of Developmental Services; $4.5 million for the Department of Elder Affairs; $21 million for emergency homelessness assistance and $31 million to provide legal representation for those who cannot afford it, including youths and those with mental health problems.

The bill also contains $300,000 to begin the process of regulating the recreational marijuana industry following the passage of an initiative petition this past fall.

In addition, the supplemental doubled the amount of state assistance to those public safety personnel killed in the line of duty to $300,000.

 

School spending ‘thorn in our side,’ mayor says

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Five months after the state threatened to withhold millions in school funds, the city is on the hook again as they face a spending shortfall, The Item has learned.

On Thursday, the Department of Education is expected to tell Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy that following a review of the city’s finances, school spending is off by about $826,000. As a result, the state may withhold that amount from Lynn’s $11 million monthly allocation of Chapter 70 school payments in June.

Peter Caron, Lynn’s chief financial officer, said the city is again working to get school spending back on track.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “We are trying to guess how much money we will spend on schools, but the state doesn’t do the accounting until six months after the fiscal year is over. It all goes back to the health insurance; we don’t know in May how much we will spend on it. It’s a crap shoot.”

Kennedy said she expects the school spending issue to be resolved, but she’s not sure how.

“Overall, net school spending has been a thorn in our side for a number of years,” she said. “When you increase the number of students in the schools by nearly 20 percent over the last six years, it causes problems on how to pay for it.”

Harbormaster files lawsuit to save job

Lynn is the fifth largest district in the Bay State with more than 16,000 students.

“Until we can slow the increase in school population or look to possible federal assistance, we will not be able to meet the threshold spending for the foreseeable future,” she said.

The city’s finances came into focus last year when the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told the mayor that the city’s contribution to school funding was short by $7.5 million and the state threatened to withhold its $11 million November payment in school funds until City Hall came up with more cash.

Since then, the school deficit has been reduced to less than $1 million and the state money was released to the city.

John J. Sullivan, DOE’s associate commissioner, declined to comment until the letter is issued to the mayor.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Peabody union has dim view of raise

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — It’s been more than two decades since the elected members of the Peabody Municipal Light Commission have gotten a raise, but for some Peabody Municipal Light Plant union members, two decades is still not long enough.

On Thursday night, the City Council’s finance committee will consider a request from the light commissioners for a raise to $5,100 per year. The five-member, elected board last saw its pay upped to $4,000 per year in 1996.

The process to approve a raise starts with the council, and then moves onto the state legislature and approval by the governor. The money for the salary increase would come from the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP) budget, according to a letter the light commissioners sent to the City Council.

While a raise of $5,500 per year total for the entire commission might not seem huge, it has drawn the ire of some union members, according to an e-mail sent to the council by AFSCME Local 364 president Kevin Collins, which he signed as coming from the employees of PMLP. The union represents approximately 42 union employees at the PMLP. At the heart of the opposition to the pay hike are bitter contract negotiations that took place last year among the union, the light commissioners and the plant manager.

“The employees of PMLP are outraged at the thought of the commissioners even asking for this raise on the heels of our last contract negotiations,” Collins stated in the e-mail. “Our last contract was not mutually agreed upon between the union and management/commissioners. Instead, management’s ‘last best offer’ was implemented and forced upon us, something which has only happened a few times in the history of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Pocket-knife seized in surprise school search

According to Collins, the union members made several concessions to proposals that “fell on deaf ears of the manager and the commissioners, and we were forced into a contract we don’t agree with, including a 4 percent raise over three years. During this same time frame, the rest of the city received almost 6 percent over three years, and some departments fared much better than that.”

In a response to Collins’ email, PMLP plant manager Glenn Trueira sent a letter to the council contesting the union president’s claims.

“As is usually the case, some of the information in Mr. Collins’ e-mail is incorrect and/or misleading,” wrote Trueira. He noted that while Collins is the highest ranking union steward at the plant, he does not represent all the employees at the plant.

“Mr. Collins does not represent the approximate 27 non-union employees at the PMLP in any way,” Trueira stated. “I am also not sure if he discussed his e-mail with all of the union employees prior to sending it to the Council, and if they are truly ‘outraged’ as he claims. Some of the non-union employees who read the e-mail last week have expressed their ‘outrage’ to me that Mr. Collins had the audacity to claim that he represents them in any way.”

 

Lynn fire stations burned by budget cuts

ITEM PHOTO BY JIM WILSON
A woman passes by the front entrance to the Hollingsworth Street station.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN For the first time since the city settled the firefighters’ contract, several stations have temporarily gone dark because of budget constraints and more cuts are expected.

On Monday, Engine 1 on Hollingsworth Street in the Highlands neighborhood was shuttered, Ladder 4 in the Broadway station was out of service Saturday, while the safety officer’s post at the Fayette Street station went unmanned Sunday night.

“When anything is out of service the city is not as adequately protected as if everything was in service,” said William Murray, deputy chief. “But it all comes down to money. The only easy way to save cash is to take engines out of service.”

This is the first of what could be many brownouts. Starting today, the department expects to shutter two shifts per day at least until June 30, the end of the fiscal year, according to Chief James McDonald.

The Fire Department must cut $1.3 million from the department’s $16.6 million payroll. One way to do that, without laying off a firefighter, is to trim the overtime budget, Murray said.

Swampscott zones in on housing

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said the brownouts stem from the firefighter’s $2.2 million arbitration award to fund retroactive raises and increased pay for this year.

“The money had to come from somewhere,” she said. “We transferred a lot of money from other accounts, but some of the money must come from overtime accounts to keep our budget in shape for the remaining three months of this fiscal year.”

The $2.5 million deal was settled in February by the Joint Labor-Management Committee, a quasi-public agency that negotiates collective bargaining disputes between municipalities and public employees. Under the terms of the agreement, the firefighters will receive a retroactive 2 percent raise for each of fiscal years 2015 and 2016, a 2.5 percent hike for 2017, another 2 percent for 2018 and on June 30, 2018 they will collect another 1 percent.

Ward 4 City Councilor Richard Colucci said the city has to find some way to pay for fire protection.

“It’s devastating,” he said. “It’s the only fire truck in the Highlands and it’s never been closed in recent memory. I plan to discuss this with the chief.”  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Money matters in Swampscott

By LEAH DEARBORN

SWAMPSCOTT — A joint session between the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday night moved the annual budget one step closer to completion.

The FY18 budget saw a $1.2 million increase from last year, amounting to a 4 percent overall spike.  

Marzie Galazka, vice chair of the finance committee, said the budget will be finalized at Town Meeting in May, but for now changes are still possible.

“We’re just beginning the process. We still haven’t had the opportunity to deliberate,” she said.

Committee ponders meaning of ‘sanctuary’

During the goal-setting session, finance committee member Jill Sullivan jotted down which departments have yet to present their budgets.

The town fire and police departments are requesting equipment increases this year, with $11,500 for new police firearms and $15,000 for fire engine repairs, according to the proposed budget.

The police department is seeking $27,000 in funding for two three-season motorcycles.

The Recreation Department budget includes a new line item for the July 4 fireworks.

It’s the School Department, however, that has the largest proposed budget of approximately $28 million.

Galazka said to accommodate the school budget, payment of some services will be shifted from the school to the cityside, including the partial salary of the facilities director.

The official town warrant will be sent to the printers on April 24 and distributed shortly after.


Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Mayor: All departments should be level funded

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Chief financial officer Peter Caron appeared before the City Council’s Budget Committee Tuesday night to explain how the city found itself $8 million in the hole.

“The fiscal year 2017 budget was about $4 million out of balance because expenditures exceeded projected revenues,” he said. “That budget did not reflect pay raises. So we started the fiscal year 2018 budget with a structural deficit in that expenditures exceeded revenues.”

The bottom line, he said, was that to fully fund all city positions with raises would be a 7 to 8.5 percent increase in payroll line items.

“We are not in a position to do that,” Caron said. “So, the mayor has asked all departments be level funded. We are encouraging managers to be creative and we’re looking for suggestions. Once we get those budgets, we’ll see how the department heads will address their shortfalls.”

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Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi wanted to know why Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy failed to anticipate the pay hikes and figure out how to pay for them.

Earlier this year, firefighters won a new four-year contract with a 9.5 percent raise, costing $2.5 million. Last summer, the police received $2.2 million over four years.

“These raises were anticipated,” Lozzi said. “When you settle a contract, it calls for pay raises in a certain time frame with retroactive pay.”

Lozzi asked what assurances the city has if department heads overspend and ask for supplemental cash later.

Caron said, “There is no additional money for supplement budgets.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn budget under the knife

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — On the heels of a bruising school election where voters overwhelmingly rejected a tax increase, the city faces the prospect of layoffs to erase a budget deficit.

Mayor Judith Flanagan has instructed department heads to level fund their fiscal year 2018 budget which begins on July 1. In addition, the email to senior managers asked them to “be creative” in absorbing a 5 percent retroactive raise to city employees and another 2 percent increase set to take effect this summer.

The city is short by $8 million — the combination of a $4 million deficit in the fiscal year 2017 budget and an additional $4 million in raises for 2018. Some departments face as much as 8.5 percent in cuts while others will have a much lower threshold.

“In order to maintain the current level of operation, the city must address the $4 million deficit from last year and up to $4 million in new salaries due to contract settlements,” said Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer. “To do so, the city needs to either find new revenue or reduce spending.”

Despite the cash crunch, the mayor insists Lynn is not in the midst of a financial crisis.

“To level fund the budget, accommodate the recent raises and increases in fixed costs, such as pensions and healthcare, we asked everyone to submit an initial budget with an 8 percent spending cut,” she said. “But this is just an initial step, we start at the bottom and build the budget up from there. I can’t speculate on layoffs right now, but we have some pretty big fixed costs that must be met.”

Still, it appears contract settlements with police, fire and other city employees has exacerbated the cash-strapped city’s ability to maintain its nearly $300 million budget without cuts. Some department heads say layoffs and service cutbacks may be inevitable. The schools will not be affected by the cuts.

Lynnfield’s Hashian gave beat for Boston

The $3.7 million payroll at the Department of Public Works must be trimmed by nearly $262,000, the potential loss of about three workers from the 50-person unit.

“Trying to do the same amount of work with less money is always a challenge,” said Andrew Hall, commissioner.

Hall said one of his workers is collecting worker’s compensation as a result of an injury on the job. If that person does not return to work, the city would not fill the position.

“I’m trying to avoid any layoffs,” he said. “It’s possible we could absorb work done by one of our contractors, but it may not be enough to avoid layoffs.”

In the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD), they are  looking at a $400,000 cut from its $6.8 million personnel budget or as many as eight positions from the department which employs 30 workers.  

Michael Donovan, ISD’s director, said his agency has three vacant positions that will go unfilled, there is the possibility of employees retiring, and there’s potential savings of up to $50,000 if the city defers scheduled improvements to city buildings.

“Even with those savings, I am looking at four more positions to trim,” he said. “If inspectors or clerical staff are laid off, it will impact the operations. This is serious. Our budget is so lean right now to cut back on personnel will lead to lower services.”

Police Chief Michael Mageary said it is too soon to say how the latest cuts will affect his department. Last year, they downsized to six patrol cars with two officers in each, down from six, one-person patrol cars and four, two-person cars.

“We are already running lean,” he said. “We have two officers less per division on the street right now.”

Cuts in the Personnel Department could lead to trimming one position, according to Joseph Driscoll, director. His $251,000 budget consists of three salaries and less than $5,000 in expenses.

“I understand the financial crisis the city is in,” said Driscoll. “I will do what the mayor and the chief financial officer ask me to do, as painful as it may be.”  

Fire Chief James McDonald said he’s hoping not to lay off anyone, but can’t guarantee it. He is looking at cutting $1.3 million from the department’s $16.6 million payroll.

“It will have a bad effect on us,” he said. “We do not have a lot of money to roll into payroll. There’s a chance a firefighter could be laid off.”

While McDonald has 17 unfilled firefighter jobs, he has been using some of that money to pay for overtime.

If the city lacks sufficient firefighters on a shift, he said they  can put that company out of service in what’s called a “brownout.” That’s where engines are removed from service when available staffing is thin.

“It’s Russian roulette,” he said. “We take them out for a day or night and hope nothing happens. That’s what happened in Holyoke on New Year’s Day. They had a fatal fire, there was a brownout and three people died.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Marblehead schools budget for the future

By LEAH DEARBORN

MARBLEHEAD The 2018 fiscal year budget for the Marblehead Public Schools saw a 5.1 percent increase from last year.

At a public hearing Thursday in the L.H. Coffin Elementary School , Superintendent Maryann Perry said most of the additional cost came from contractual increases across all grades.

Textbook and curriculum renewal is a priority, said Perry, as well as continuing to update technology accessible to students and teachers.

She said additional interpretation services were contracted over the past year as the student base in town continues to diversify.

“We want to make sure every child and their family feels welcome here in Marblehead schools,” said Perry.

She said a separate $115,000 was granted by the town finance committee to supplement recent federal cuts to Title I program funding. Title I focuses on narrowing the education gap for at-risk learners.

The hearing was part of the regular School Committee meeting.

Harrington principal among 3 super finalists

Before the budget hearing, the future of the Elbridge Gerry School was discussed. Committee member David Harris said this week kicks off the hiring process for an owner’s project manager to direct the feasibility phase of consolidating the Gerry and Coffin schools.

He said the committee is analyzing an alternate possibility of combining the Gerry, Coffin and Malcom L. Bell schools that would support 450 students, a course Harris described as a means of preparing for the future growth.

The Gerry School Building Committee entered the 270-day eligibility period with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) in March and was given the green light to move forward to the next phase of gathering information.

“They’re right there with you from start to finish,” said Harris about the project manager position.

He said whomever is hired will work hand-in-hand with the building committee and architect in a process the MSBA estimates will take an average of 18-24 months.

The feasibility study is estimated to cost up to $750,000, according to the Marblehead Public Schools website. The MSBA will reimburse the town approximately 32 percent of the study cost.

The first of the public project manager interviews is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. tonight at Marblehead High School. The remaining two will take place on Monday, and a final recommendation will be brought before the committee on April 6.


Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Schools out in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Judy Odiorre, Jeanne Melanson, and Marie Muise celebrate the “Vote No” victory at the Old Tyme Restaurant.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN —  Voters said no to a nearly $200 million proposal to build two middle schools Tuesday, rejecting the measure by a decisive margin.

The controversial ballot asked voters to green light construction of the schools while a second question sought approval to pay for them. The first vote failed 63 to 37 percent, the funding question lost 64 to 36 percent.

“I am really proud of my neighborhood grassroots group that stood up for what they believe in,” said Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, an advocacy organization founded to fight the ballot question. “The city, and in particular, the mayor and the superintendent, really need to reassess how they do business with taxpayers.”

Castle said the vote turned on the process, financing, the site that includes land that the founding fathers intended as cemetery expansion, as well as wetlands.

It was a spirited campaign where proponents and opponents took their case to Facebook and in dueling op-ed pieces.  The Item editorialized in favor of the project on Page 1 twice in the final weeks of the campaign.

Of the 8,539 votes cast on the first question, 3,189 were in favor while 5,350 were against. On the second question, of the 8,454 votes, 3,014 were in favor while 5,440 opposed. The no vote was nearly unanimous in every ward and precinct across the city.  

Full results of Lynn school vote

The vote is a setback for Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, the superintendent, the Lynn Teachers Association and nearly all of the city’s elected officials who were in favor of the project.

“I’m disappointed for the students more than anything,” said Kennedy.  

As far as renovating the existing Pickering Middle School, Kennedy said that is not possible.

“We can’t afford it,” she said. “That would be $44 million out of the city’s budget … there is absolutely no way we can afford to renovate Pickering.”

Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, said she was greatly disappointed that the vote to build two new middle schools failed.  

“The greatest investment a city can make is for the education of its children,” she said in an email.  “Apparently our residents are unable to make such a investment at this time. I will continue to work with the state and the city to examine possible solutions to our school needs.”

If approved, the city would have built a 652-student school near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second school would have housed 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street. In making the case for the new schools, Latham said 3,100 students attend the city’s three middle schools. By 2020, enrollment is expected to soar by 20 percent, adding another 600 students to the mix. The new schools were needed to fix a problem of insufficient space and inadequate facilities.

The new schools would have added an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family home each year for the next 25 years.

City Council President Darren Cyr, an enthusiastic supporter of the new schools,  said he was extremely disappointed in the vote.

“I feel sorry for the kids in our city,” he said. “They are the losers. There are no winners.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Sheriff settles into his new office

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger talks about this first three months in office.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MIDDLETON Former Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger, settling into his new job as Essex County sheriff after being sworn in in January, is focusing on the budget and reducing the recidivism rate among inmates at the Essex County Correctional Facility.

The biggest issue right now is the budget, Coppinger said. The department has a projected $19 million deficit through June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Out of the 14 sheriff’s departments in the state, he said Essex County is one of the four that have been traditionally underfunded and lives off supplemental budgets through the legislature.

Coppinger said his goal is to get the budget stabilized and fully funded as of July 1 each year. He said the budget cycle for FY18 is ongoing, but right now, the struggle is to come up with the $19 million to get through the rest of the fiscal year.

The sheriff said one of the reasons he ran, after 34 years as a cop, was because he wanted to see some change. He’s a third-generation police officer, who started off with the Lynnfield Police Department, before transferring to Lynn.

Coppinger said he often saw the same individuals arrested and brought back. He said it was a revolving wheel, and called the department’s 47 percent recidivism rate last year outrageous. He wants to see some changes, and plans on a program audit to look at all of the different programs in the department. The goal is to improve the programs for the inmates to address that cycle.

“When the inmates come in, the goal is when they are released, they’re released in better shape than when they came in,” Coppinger said. “Again, the long-term goal is that they don’t recidivate. So, somebody commits a crime, they get sentenced here — the average sentence is nine months. We want to make sure (when) they leave the door, they don’t come back.”

A candid look at life on the streets

One of the department’s highlights, Coppinger said, is the detox program, which works closely with the courts, particularly the drug courts. There is a program for men and women, which includes 42 beds in each unit and 28-day programs. Other programs include anger management, GED for their high school equivalencies and work releases, he added.

The work program for inmates is through the pre-release center in Lawrence, better known as the farm. Coppinger said it’s getting to the point in the season where the sheriff’s department will do a lot more community service work, so inmate work crews will be sent to the municipalities and nonprofits if they want something done.

Coppinger said it also helps the department to send inmates to be released back into the communities to the pre-release center.

“They don’t just sit in a cell for nine months and then we open up the doors and they go home,” he said. “We put them through programs. They leave here and they go to Lawrence. They’re hopefully a work release. They come back at night. Some of them are on bracelets. Some of them are in our custody full-time. And then, you slowly get them acclimated to go back into community life. It’s a multi-faceted set of goals we have.”

Coppinger said the facilities for inmates in the department also operate on a risk-based system. For instance, those involved in the work release are not violent or career criminals, but low-risk inmates who may be serving time for motor vehicle violations or child support issues. With the detox programs, drug dealers would not be allowed in, but those charged with drug possession would.

He said there are also segregation cells for the hardcore criminals. Gang members have to be separated from each other. The key is classification, Coppinger said, and when the inmate comes in the door, the goal is to gather as much information on them as possible to get them into the right buildings and programs. In Middleton, where the sheriff’s office is located, there are 11 buildings for the jail.

A women’s facility is in Salisbury. Most women go to Framingham, including all those convicted of violent crimes, Coppinger said. There are 24 beds in Salisbury, he said, and when women can be held there for other, more minor offenses, they are.

The department also oversees offices of community correction in Lynn, Lawrence and Salisbury, Coppinger said.

Keeping inmates busy with programs keeps them productive, Coppinger said. By sending more productive members back into the community, he said it might lighten the load on law enforcement. There could be fewer calls to police, and they could better address other issues that need their attention. Reform is not a new philosophy, he said, but he and his staff are just bringing a new perspective.

“I just think I bring a little bit different perspective based on my law enforcement background,” Coppinger said. “I know what the root causes of crime are. I watched them for 30 odd years. You see what drives a lot of folks to crime. Hopefully, between these initiatives and working with the cities and towns and even in prevention mechanisms, we can make a dent. We’re certainly not going to completely eradicate crime. If we can knock down that recidivism rate, it’s all the better.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Trump cuts could bleed North Shore nonprofits

Photo by Leise Jones
James Wilson, assistant director of conservation, examines a furnace for needed repairs or replacement. The program could be axed if President Trump’s budget is approved.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — President Donald Trump’s proposal to scrap more than $50 billion in federal funding for social programs would have a catastrophic impact on residents, according to nonprofit executives and City Hall.

“These cuts will be devastating,” said Birgitta Damon, CEO of Lynn Economic Opportunity Inc. (LEO), a North Shore community action agency that provides fuel assistance, home energy measures and daycare. “If these cuts come, it would jeopardize the safety of thousands of Greater Lynn residents.”

In what Trump calls his “Budget Blueprint for 2018,” the president proposed increases in the federal budget for immigration enforcement at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, additional resources for a wall on the Mexican border, immigration judges, expanded detention capacity and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The president also pledged to boost defense spending by 10 percent to $571 billion, a $54 billion hike, without increasing the debt.

But to do that, Trump has recommended reductions in non-defense spending totaling $54 billion.  

“We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump said in his budget plan. “This includes deep cuts to foreign aid. It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share.”

Charles Gaeta, executive director of the Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development, whose mission is to provide low- and moderate-income tenants with safe and affordable housing, said the proposed cuts will have a significant impact on the nonprofit’s $40 million budget.

“If Congress goes along, these cuts will be disastrous to our residents, clients and staff,” he said. “We don’t know exactly how much will be cut, but rental assistance is threatened, so are  community development block grants and HOME funds which can be used to rehab housing. For an urban community like Lynn, this is devastating. It will hurt neighborhood revitalization, as well as first-time homebuyer and lead paint programs.”

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said candidate Trump promised to create good-paying jobs, invest in the nation’s infrastructure and ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to thrive in the new economy. But the president’s budget fails to mention jobs, rebuilding roads and bridges or expanding economic opportunity for all Americans.

“For a president who talks about ‘America First,’ this budget puts Americans last,” Moulton said in a statement.

Swampscott pulls plug on yacht club

A spokesman for the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, an agency of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, said they were still trying to determine how the proposed cuts would impact the state.

“The commonwealth relies on various federal funding sources to support important programs … and the Baker-Polito administration will continue to advocate for federal funding,” the agency said in a statement. “As the budget process plays out in Congress, the administration urges the Massachusetts congressional delegation to work toward keeping these critical funding sources intact.”

Donald Walker, director of project operations for the city’s Department of Community Development, said Lynn would take a $2.2 million hit if the White House eliminates the block grant program.

“We use that program to rehabilitate parks and playgrounds, housing rehabilitation, fund first-time homebuyer and small business loans,” he said. “We also provide $366,000 to 30 public service agencies that provide Meals On Wheels, a community minority cultural center, special needs and arts programs. We are concerned about the impact the cuts would have and hope there will be some give and take before this is over.”

If approved by Congress, $7 million of LEO’s $10.3 million annual budget would be lost. Low-income heating assistance and home energy/weatherization programs would end and Head Start, a program that prepares young children for success in school, would also cease.

“Trump has decided to increase defense spending and, as a result, he must cut domestic programs that families and communities rely on,” said Damon.

Material from Associated Press contributed to this report.

Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Saugus battles over bucks

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The school department is preparing to pinch pennies after meeting with the Finance Committee about the budget.

“The budget is a moving target right now,” said Jeannie Meredith, chairwoman of the School Committee. “I think it’s a little early in the game to say ‘the sky is falling.’ I feel confident that we’re working with a qualified superintendent. We’ll get through it like we do every year.

“Budget season in Saugus and in every district is always a contentious time,” she said. “There’s only one pot of money and it has to be divided. As School Committee chair, I always want to see more for the kids. As a realist, I realize we need to budget for all the departments. Working together I think we can try to come to a mutual agreement.”

Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi defended the School Committee’s vote for a $29.6 million budget in a presentation to the Finance Committee on Wednesday. The request is up from a $28.1 million spending plan last year. Earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen voted on a $28.4 million school department budget, $1.6 million less than the appropriation the School Committee requested.

“My goal was to present a budget that reflects how a school budget is actually built,” said DeRuosi.

His intent was to put meaning behind the numbers being requested at each line item of the budget.

“It doesn’t have to do with believing in the numbers or not believing in them,” said Kenneth DePatto, chairman of the Finance Committee. “It has to do with sustaining it. We can’t keep on growing at this level. I’m really concerned with the level of growth.”

The increase requested by DeRuosi and the School Committee will reinstate Spanish as a requirement, rather than an elective, a cut that was made for last year’s budget. An allocation of $82,000 will fund Chromebooks, which will be necessary next year when MCAS testing will require a computer.

The biggest hit to the wallet, DeRuosi said, is meeting the needs of the district’s changing demographics.

Lynn principal candidate for Peabody super

In 2012, the district had 88 ELL students. Last year, that swelled to 126. Children in Saugus Public Schools now speak 23 languages other than English, he said. About 40 percent of students are considered low-income and qualify for a free or reduced price lunch program. They are also eligible to ride to school at no cost, he said. The homeless population has increased steadily over the past five years and reached 40 students in 2016.

As of Wednesday, 165 students had elected to attend charter schools rather than staying in the district. “This is a red flag for me,” DeRuosi said “If we’re losing these numbers, we’re going to feel the financial impacts. I want this bar to go down. We want to keep these kids.”

Out-of-district special education costs pay for services for any Saugus child who the district cannot meet the needs of. The students sometimes attend residential or daytime residential programs that can cost the school department hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

“My fear is that this is not a sustainable number,” said DePatto. “I’m looking at your contractual needs and your critical needs. Eight to nine percent growth — that’s a level of growth I don’t think is sustainable, looking at the needs of the schools, according to the superintendent and School Committee.

“There’s only so much money that comes into this town,” said DePatto. “We need to find savings within the operating budgets or go to the people and tell them we want a general override.”

By April, DeRuosi will outline in detail the impacts of the $872,000 deficit created by only appropriating the district an increase of $300,000. He will create two additional budgets for a scenario where the department instead receives $400,000 and $500,000, with deficits of $772,000 and $672,000.

The full committee will begin meeting for budget workshops to talk numbers by the end of the month. They have not yet started discussions about what will be cut to make ends meet, said Meredith.

“The Finance Subcommittee was created to go over the financial reports and see if there are any questions throughout the year,” she said. “The first budget workshop will be when the five-member committee will be meeting for the first time to discuss any budget changes. My personal opinion — I don’t want to see teachers laid off. I’m not looking to cut any teachers this year.”


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemilve.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Swampscott needs a plan

The good news: Swampscott has a balanced school budget. The bad news: It will probably be a lot more difficult next year to balance school spending.

The $30.4 million budget approved by the School Committee on Wednesday includes a solution for keeping all-day kindergarten free and a generous contribution from the town budget to help balance the school budget.

But budget makers were forced to do some fine tuning in order to craft this year’s budget. Expenses such as school property snow removal are getting shifted to the town. Some teaching jobs won’t get filled and forward-thinking educational options like Mandarin language classes will be available only online.

Making a cut here, consolidating an expense there, and sharing costs is the way municipal budget makers craft spending plans so that they balance. There is fine art and technique to the process. But there are also longer-term worries hanging like dark clouds over Swampscott school spending.

Negotiations with town teachers have yet to be concluded and the budget includes money to initially cover the cost of any raises bargained between union teachers and town officials. The question of how the schools will cover additional bargaining costs remains unanswered.

Swampscott plugs school spending gap

Keeping all-day kindergarten free is a sensible decision but one the town may not be able to afford next year. Young parents considering a move to Swampscott will be impressed by a school system that offers free, all-day kindergarten. But what will educators and the School Committee potentially be willing to sacrifice next year in order to continue free kindergarten?

The other big challenge for school spending is aging schools. The new budget combines town and school money to provide $400,000 in maintenance for local schools. This spending is rapidly approaching the point where it will represent a stop-gap effort aimed at staving off the inevitable need for new schools.

School Superintendent Pamela Angelakis is leading a task force aiming to submit a statement of intent to the state outlining the town’s new school needs. Angelakis is a pragmatist and knows the town can’t take a short-sighted approach to school capital needs.

She also remembers how town voters defeated a 2014 proposal for a district-wide elementary school. Swampscott can’t wait for a major maintenance expense in a local school to underscore the need for new buildings. But the push for new school construction will parallel efforts next year to shape.

Paying to improve schools is a reality residents in any community must face. Swampscott parents are facing that reality this year with the decision, as part of the school budget discussion, to raise athletic fees by $75. They will be asked to pay again if and when town officials move forward with building a new school.

 

Swampscott plugs school spending gap

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — After months of scrambling to bridge a significant spending gap, and with the help of an 11th hour increase in town allocation, the School Committee approved a balanced $30.41 million FY18 budget Wednesday night.

The FY18 budget represents a 2.2 percent change over last year’s amount. School officials struggled to achieve a balanced budget, and initially faced a $1.722 million spending gap.

Officials were able to reduce the gap to $275,000, a figure they had been working with for weeks, after $726,000 in salary reductions and $721,000 in expense reductions. Still faced with a substantial gap to fill, the option of eliminating free full-day kindergarten was floated, much to the ire of many parents in town. A tuition full-day model was proposed with a free half-day program.

Superintendent Pamela Angelakis and other school officials spent part of their public budget discussions lobbying town officials for more than the projected $750,000 increase in town allocation, arguing that the figure wouldn’t even cover their anticipated salary increases.

The school committee is currently in contract negotiations with the Swampscott Education Association, the teachers’ union, which has rejected a proposed contract, and is potentially seeking higher raises.

Their lobbying was answered, as the Board of Selectmen approved a $67.63 million town budget last week, opting to allocate an additional $200,000 to the schools, or a $950,000 increase over last year. The selectmen approved allocating $28,197,500 to the schools.

Saugus school head defends budget

To bridge the remaining $75,000 gap, Evan Katz, school business administrator, said the town will take over the school’s snow removal costs, which allows that $40,000 be allocated elsewhere, and expenses have been further reduced by $35,000. He said that included custodial supplies and utilities.

Angelakis said last week the additional town allocation will be used to continue to fund the full-day kindergarten program for the next school year.

Katz said the increase in town funds is actually $1.2 million, rather than $950,000. Other town support includes taking on $100,000 of the school maintenance expenses, paying half, or $46,000 of the shared facilities director salary, and allowing the schools to hold onto the $64,000 that would have gone toward the 53rd week of payroll for FY18. There are only 52 weeks in that year, and the funds will be allocated elsewhere.  

Katz said the town support allows the schools to meet a $400,000 maintenance goal, which is sorely needed for aging buildings.

The budget reserves $200,000 for high growth programs such as high school science, English language-learners and special education, Katz said.

Some cuts have included eliminating about five teacher positions. The special education teacher position at Hadley School has been eliminated, elementary health content is being moved to the physical education program, the middle school red, white and you class is getting the ax, high school Mandarin is moving to online-only in the midst of being phased out, a METCO clerical position is being absorbed into an existing staff person and one-third of the middle school reading program is being curtailed, Katz said.

An unpopular decision among the school committee is the decision to raise athletic fees by $75 for students. But Angelakis said fees have not been increased for nine years, and the $80,000 it would generate was necessary to balance the budget.

The town budget is subject to further conversation with the Finance Committee before ultimately coming back to the selectmen for final approval. Town Meeting members will vote on the budget, which is still subject to change, in May.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Study: Revere needs human resources department

By THOMAS GRILLO

REVERE — A new University of Massachusetts study calls on the city to create a Human Resources Department, saying it’s critical to the operation of a large municipality.

In its 17-page report, the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management recommended Revere adopt a centralized personnel department, with a director, benefits coordinator and a secretary. It does not say how much it will cost.

The report was embraced by Mayor Brian Arrigo, who has argued a personnel department is essential.

“An interim HR consultant is now in place to begin implementing those recommendations, and a permanent HR director will be hired this year,” said Arrigo in a statement.

The Society for Human Resource Management said HR is the formal structure within an organization responsible for all the decisions, strategies, factors, principles, operations practices, functions, activities and methods related to the management of people.

The study also said the recruitment and selection processes should be centralized; a comprehensive pay and classification system including job descriptions should be adopted; policies governing conflict of interest, ethics, criminal offenders records inquiries, Family and Medical Leave Act procedures, absenteeism, discrimination prevention and discipline should be implemented; training should be provided to department heads and supervisors on critical policies.

In what will be one of the more controversial aspects of the survey, researchers said the residency requirement should be scrapped in favor of a preference to employ city residents.

The Collins Center team conducted interviews with City Hall staff including the mayor and department heads.

In addition, ordinances, collective bargaining agreements, budgets and policies were reviewed.

Revere has 425 employees. The School Department employs 1,375. The city has 506 benefited retirees. The city’s operating budget is more than $170 million.

Pickering principal states case for new school


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Saugus school head defends budget

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi said he plans to defend the School Committee’s vote for a $29.6 million budget to the Finance Committee next week.

The Finance Subcommittee, comprised of two members of the full committee, met with DeRuosi, Executive Director of Finance and Administration Pola Andrews and Lisa Howard, executive director of pupil personnel service and special education, Tuesday morning to discuss the town manager and Board of Selectmen’s vote last week.

Selectmen voted on a $28.4 million school department budget, $1.6 million less than the $29.6 million appropriation the School Committee requested.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree noted that, at this time, the schools have been allocated about $300,000 more than what they were given last year in their operating budget. With charge-backs, the school department has about $41 million to go toward education, he said.

The Finance Committee will review the request and make a recommendation to Town Meeting in May.

“I’m going to defend the budget we voted,” said DeRuosi. “They’ve asked and requested a ton of information and we’ve answered all of their questions to the best of our ability. I think we can stay civil and work together to get somewhere.”

Classical alumni look to $1 million goal

On March 15, he plans to explain the increasing costs of special education. By April, he will outline in detail the impacts of the $872,000 deficit created by only appropriating the district an increase of $300,000. He will create two additional budgets for a scenario where the department instead receives $400,000 and $500,000, with deficits of $772,000 and $672,000.

“With $873,000, yeah, you’d have to do some serious number crunching,” said DeRuosi. “$672,000 you can chip away at a lot easier than $872,000.”

Committee member Peter Manoogian said he was concerned that if he didn’t prepare the budgets sooner, he wouldn’t be able to answer specific questions about what the underfunding would translate to in terms of changes to the district.

“You’re the expert on this,” Manoogian told DeRuosi. “We need to hear the proposal from you. That’s what we have you here for. I don’t want the School Committee proposing cuts.”

He added that he wanted residents and Town Meeting members to be aware of the effects of the budget they would be voting on.

“I don’t want people saying ‘gee, I didn’t know when I voted on the school budget that it meant this,’” he said.

“We need to have in much more detail what this school district would look like with a $300,000 increase, a $400,000 increase and so on,” said committee member Arthur Grabowski. “We want the numbers and recommendations to be hard with justifications of how the numbers you’re recommending will affect the district. Last year, we didn’t know what it was going to do to our district. We didn’t know what it would do to the high school.”

Manoogian tossed around the idea of not replacing retiring teachers and staff to cut costs. The budget includes $317,592 in cost containments from retiring staff whose positions will be filled at lower salaries.

“What if you don’t replace them? What if you chose not to replace those people?” he said.

Andrews reported the retirees included eight teachers; four elementary school teachers, one elementary specialist in computers and literacy, one high school teacher, a speech and language coach and a nurse in a supervisor position.

Should the elementary teachers be distributed across the town’s schools, choosing not to replace the teachers would result in larger class sizes, DeRuosi said.

“Our strengths are at the elementary level,” Manoogian said. “There are obviously down sides.

The subcommittee voted to make a recommendation to draft the three budgets to the full committee at the next meeting. They will also request alternating weeks with the full committee and finance committee, so finance subcommittee members can report their findings between meetings.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

More or less for schools in Saugus

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Members of the School Committee will discuss the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation for a $300,000 budget increase from Fiscal Year 2017 at a meeting today.

Selectmen voted on a $28.4 million school department budget, $1.6 million less than the $29.6 million appropriation the School Committee requested.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree noted that, at this time, the schools have been allocated about $300,000 more than what they were given last year in their operating budget. With charge-backs, the school department has about $41 million to go toward education, he said.

The Board of Selectmen supported the town manager’s $79.9 million budget proposal last week. The Finance Committee will review the request and make a recommendation to Town Meeting in May.

“This is very early in our process — this is a preliminary estimate,” said Crabtree. “We try to put together the best we can do. This is the sixth budget we’ve put together and this is probably the most challenging budget, in the sense of fiscally, because of the continued increase in fixed costs with a 2½ levy increase with limited new growth.”

The budget includes an estimated fixed-cost increase of $1.9 million. Health insurance providers for the town asked that health insurance costs be budgeted at a 12 percent, or $1.2 million increase, from last year. Crabtree called the increase “pretty significant.

“Also, our personal contribution is mandated by state law,” Crabtree said. “We are on a schedule that has been set out by the retirement board and in that schedule, this year calls for an aggressive increase in the contributions on behalf of the town.”

The $580,000 increase brings the pension appropriation to $6.5 million. The increase keeps the town on track to fully funding its pension obligation by 2029.

Regional and vocational education cost increases and an 8 percent property and liability insurance increase are also included in the fixed costs. Contractual and wage adjustments are not factored in.

“This is one of the most challenging budgets as far as funding and because we are at the very top of the levy,” Crabtree said. “We’ve anticipated new growth but it’s not something that’s going to be realized until (major development) projects are completed.

“I think, some of the perception is that there is some sort of windfall money because of the new development and new growth that we’re going to be realizing,” he said. “That’s not happening this fiscal year and it’s likely that it won’t happen for at least another fiscal year.

“What we’re trying to do, I think, as a board, is support and prioritize looking at ways to grow our levy and grow our town.”

Ten thousand dollars will cover the costs of police dispatcher training.

The legal counsel budget jumped from about $273,700 to $323,500.

“Legal, in general, has been under-budgeted for many years,” Crabtree said. “If you’re getting the right advice in the beginning or during, you save a lot of money in the long run.”

He also expressed interest in creating a position for a town hall floater to fill in when others are out of the office, but didn’t include money for the job in this year’s budget.

Partners’ cuts hurt Lynn

About $775,000 was allocated to repair, maintain and provide electricity for the town’s street lights, up from $550,000 in FY17.

The library’s request for $611,243, the Department of Youth and Recreation’s request for $127,262 and Council on Aging’s $277,053 request were all supported.

“I remember it wasn’t that long ago that we talked about closing Youth and Rec, the senior center and the library,” said Debra Panetta, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen. “Kudos to the town manager and our treasurer.”


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.