Shortfall

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.

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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

 

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.

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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

Saugus school magic number: $900,000

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The closure of the Ballard Early Education Center is among the proposed cuts to help bridge a potential $900,000 budget gap.

Should the building have to close its doors, the program would move to other public school facilities, said Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi.

“My worst case scenario is on paper right now,” DeRuosi said.

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. Town Meeting will vote on the budget May 1.

At a meeting Tuesday, he proposed cuts that included closing the center and 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.

The Ballard Early Education Center has several curriculum-based preschool classes, about five of which are integrated classes of both regular and special education. DeRuosi proposed relocating the more self-contained classes to Saugus High School and the more inclusive classes to Veterans Memorial Elementary School. 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.

“When you’re spending over $1 million on 45 students, you have to look at how you can do that more efficiently,” said Chairwoman Jeannie Meredith.

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DeRuosi also questioned whether two retiring custodians needed to be replaced and whether a currently open position needed to be filled.

DeRuosi added that as a long-term goal, the master plan includes having fewer school buildings. He and School Committee members shared a vision that high school juniors and seniors could take child development courses and volunteer in classrooms to help prepare them to pursue degrees in fields such as social work and education.

By not replacing teachers, some schools would be faced with larger class sizes of up to 26 students, DeRuosi said. He added that parents would have the option to move their children to another school with smaller class sizes.

School Committee member Peter Manoogian argued that keeping smaller class sizes should be a priority when looking at the budget. Member Arthur Grabowski said he would rather see higher paying positions eliminated than teachers and nurses.

The panel also discussed whether the Belmonte Middle School needed its current two vice principals, three councilors and an adjustment counselor in addition to Principal Kerry Robbins.


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

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.”

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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.