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.
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 [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.