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Saugus board member: Schools to blame for decrease in home values

SAUGUS – School Committee member Frederick Doucette has been consistent in his argument that home values in Saugus are tied to the school system and he thinks he can prove his point.Doucette admitted his research was not fool proof, but a quick scan of home values shows that the average home in Saugus is dropping at a higher rate than others in Essex County.According to Doucette’s figures, Saugus homes have dropped an average of $20,000 compared to the average Essex County home.According to www.zillow.com, an online home assessment site, that’s a $7,000 difference over last year, when the average Essex County home was priced at $368,000 and Saugus hovered at $355,000. In January 2006, there was only a $6,000 difference between the same home prices.Doucette has argued that all residents need to take notice of what’s happening within the School Department because it affects everyone through property values.The School Department took a $1.3 million budget hit over the last year and continues to deal with deteriorating buildings, overcrowded classrooms, outdated technology and textbooks, and dropping enrollment.Doucette’s argument – and he is not alone – is that the poor condition of the schools is leading to lower property values.”He has a point,” said Town Manager Andrew Bisignani. “People come in (to town) and the first thing they ask about is the quality of the school system.”Enrollment figures give some credence to Doucette’s concerns as well, with enrollment peaking in 2003 with 3,283 students. While 2004 and 2005 saw small drops – 54 students and 12 students respectively – the numbers took a big tumble when 144 students left the system in 2006. Another 94 students moved on in December 2007.”The big jumps have been in the last two years,” Manville agreed. “Most have headed to private school.”Manville said most parents who pulled their children from the system said they didn’t want to, but felt they had no choice.Selectman Michael Kelleher said he understood the concern, explaining his oldest daughter Marissa graduated from Saugus High School, but the rest of his children attend private school.Kelleher said he had no problem with the education Marissa received, but as the schools took numerous budget hits, he felt he would be remiss if he didn’t move his kids.”It’s not the best we could do for our kids,” he said. “We loved Saugus (schools) but we just didn’t think it was the best education.”Selectman Stephen Castinetti said he is in the same position now. His son will enter middle school in the fall and Castinetti told the School Committee during a recent budget meeting that he and his wife are struggling with the decision of where to send him.”It pains me to no end to hear people are moving out because kids can’t get a decent education,” he said. “I’m not moving but I don’t know if I’ll send my son to the middle school because he deserves more than this town is ready to give him.”Castinetti said he tends to blame residents who don’t have children and don’t want to invest in the school system.”Property values all go down the drain if you don’t pay attention to the schools,” he said. “I would rather he go to the Belmonte Middle School in Saugus, but we need to make an investment in our schools.”To bring families back, Manville said the School Department will have to find a way to lower class sizes, bring back gifted and talented programs, put languages back in the middle school and institute them at the elementary level, but all that takes money.While Bisignani and the Finance Committee have been supportive of Manville’s endeavors, he understands their hands are tied by limited resources.”We do our best but it isn’t enough and it’s getting worse,” he said.

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