EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 7, 2013

A public hearing with no public

$90.5M school budget approved for next year

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — Not a single parent or other member of the public showed up for last night’s public hearing on the proposed $90.5 million school budget for next year.

“This is a sharp contrast to previous years when we had to meet in the auditorium and it was packed,” Mayor James Fiorentini said.

After the minute-long hearing, during which no members of the public spoke, the School Committee debated the spending plan and eventually passed it unanimously after making several changes. The budget was proposed by School Superintendent James Scully.

The biggest change was the committee’s cut of $1.1 million in special education spending.

The cuts, mainly teacher aide positions, are part of a planned reorganization of the special education department, Scully told the committee.

Committee members said they were comfortable eliminating the aides because the move will not impact class sizes.

The spending cut was needed to make up for prior estimates by school officials of health insurance-related cost increases that turned out to be low, Scully said.

The school transportation request was also reduced by $200,000 in a deal worked out by Fiorentini and Scully. The School Department was looking for an extra $500,000 next year to improve and expand school bus routes, but the mayor would only support $300,000 more, a change he and Scully agreed to before the meeting.

Fiorentini also put $200,000 under his control into a special school reserve that cannot be tapped without the approval of City Council. That money is part of $600,000 in federal Medicaid reimbursements that has traditionally been given to the schools.

Several committee members objected, but the mayor said he set up the reserve because the committee would not do it on its own.

Overall, the school budget is up about $4.3 million or about 5 percent, most of which comes from state aid money.