HAVERHILL — As Mayor James Fiorentini prepares to unveil his budget for the coming year, a debate over the cost of busing students to school is raging.
The School Department wants more than $500,000 to expand bus routes, which Fiorentini has said he does not support. He said he is in talks with School Superintendent James Scully to reduce that transportation spending.
The School Department’s preliminary budget proposal for next year called for $90.6 million — an increase of nearly $4.4 million or 5 percent over this year. That included $509,000 to redo and expand school bus routes.
“The transportation budget has to be cut or I won’t support this budget,” Fiorentini said at a recent School Committee meeting. “We can’t have buses stopping at every house. It’s expensive and it contributes to obesity in our youth.”
Last week, the School Committee gave preliminary approval to a school budget in excess of $90 million and scheduled a public hearing on the spending plan June 6. Fiorentini, who is also School Committee chairman, abstained from voting because he said the committee’s proposal is essentially a recommendation to the mayor.
In past years, Fiorentini has finished his spending plan by this time of year — a combination of budgets for city departments and schools. But, he said this year he has been delayed by the school budget.
“I am working with the School Department to resolve my differences,” he said in a May 28 memo to the City Council.
The mayor said he is also concerned the School Department’s special education costs are skyrocketing and that the proposed school budget does not include any money in reserve for unexpected problems.
The mayor said he will submit his budget proposal to city councilors tomorrow and pitch it to the public at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The council, which can cut spending from the budget but not add to it, is expected to begin holding budget meetings with department heads almost immediately. This year’s current city budget, which includes the schools, is approximately $154 million.