EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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March 14, 2014

SPED, school hiring are biggest concerns

Schools working to narrow $1.3 million deficit

(Continued)

“We always have a school budget that’s greater than what we can fund,” Finance Committee member Greg Serrao said. “I think about the world and the big picture. Few places are adding employees. We’ve added 109. Most of them are in (special education).”

Cherrywood Circle resident Bob Pokress centered his frustration on the recently approved teachers’ contract, which provides for a 5.5 percent raise spread out over the next three years.

“What you’ve done is signed a blank check that’s going to cost the town roughly $180 million over the three years of the contract. That is the cause of these budget gaps,” Pokress said. “A self-created crisis is what we now have as a result of this irresponsible action, of rushing a contract that didn’t need to be rushed.”

The district’s special education needs also drew heavy discussion, with comments centering on where the town may be doing too much, and where it may not be doing enough.

Serrao said, according to state figures, Andover is ranked highest in the state for the percentage of its overall budget that’s spent on special education. That puts the town above districts such as Lexington and Brookline, which are of similar size and demographics.

Joyce Laundry, the district’s director of student services, said that was because Lexington and Brookline both also had larger operating budgets, which lowered their percentages dedicated to special education.

Even then, “if we spend $1 in our school budget, how much does that go to special ed?” Serrao said. “We’re well above the average in the commonwealth.”

Parents were quick to respond.

“It’s very clear to me that very few of you actually walk into those halls, and into those classrooms, and see what we’re talking about here — not the numbers and pieces of paper, but children, children we need to educate,” Susan McCready, co-president of the Sanborn Elementary School PTO, said.

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