EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 17, 2013

Schools trim $3M from new budget

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — The School Department trimmed back a budget proposal to the minimum state requirement, outlining a reduction in current staff through attrition and reorganization, officials said.

Superintendent Judith Scannell said the proposed budget still would move forward with some education priorities, including enrichment programs for upper level grammar school students, reintroducing eighth-grade Spanish and several new math and reading tutors to bolster performance in the grammar schools.

“When they said no, you have to cut $3 million more, with a heavy heart I did it,” Scannell said. “I don’t want to put the city in a bad place. But my job is to look out for the kids and put out budget for them.”

The School Committee will have a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the Great Hall at City Hall on Pleasant Street. On June 25, the City Council will consider the entire city budget, which includes the School Department.

According to the new proposal, which is posted on the School Department’s website, 10 program assistant positions would be eliminated if the proposal is approved. Scannell, who has resisted layoffs since becoming superintendent, said employees will not be laid off. The reductions will come through attrition and reorganization.

Eight of those positions will be in special education, she said.

The School Department also would reduce its planned purchase of iPads, an emphasis in the high school for the last several years, by half in the coming year and reduce some building maintenance costs.

“The buildings are in decent shape, but that’s hard because that’s an important piece to keep the buildings up to speed,” she said.

The proposal preserves the restoration of Spanish for eighth graders in all four grammar schools. Those courses will be taught by current language coaches. It also includes math and language arts enrichment in the grammar schools, and math and reading tutors in the early grammar school grades and the high school.

Assistant Superintendent Brandi Kwong told the School Committee last month the tutors are to address sagging MCAS scores in grades three, four and five.

Reading tutors would be expanded to all schools in the lower level grades.

School Committee members met with Scannell the first week of June, and she released the new proposal last Monday. Scannell and committee members said the meetings were constructive and produced an acceptable spending blueprint.

“I’m happy with the new budget,” School Committee vice chairman Evan Chaisson said. “I would like to see in the future Methuen spend a little more on schools. We’ll make it with these numbers. Our class sizes won’t increase, teachers will still have all their supplies and everything they need.”

Mayor Stephen Zanni signaled as soon as the original $80.8 million proposal was unveiled that it would need to be reduced to the state’s minimum requirement. After reviewing the revision, he said it is one the city can work with and still includes new initiatives aimed at improving student performance.

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