Tuesday, November 21, 2017
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School officials propose a “responsible” balanced budget

School officials have proposed a $69.2 million balanced budget that avoids layoffs and cuts and keeps programs and services intact.

A public hearing on the School Department’s budget proposal will be held on June 19 at 6 p.m. at the Senor Center. This week Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles Grandson IV, Malden Public Schools Finance Director/Business Manager Toni Mertz and members of the School Committee met with the Finance Committee to review next year’s numbers. And unlike other school budget meetings in years past, the conversation was cordial.

“This is one of the most responsible budgets I’ve seen,” said Ward 6 Councillor Neil Kinnon. “It’s a remarkable budget to come in at this number and maintain services.”

Grandson introduced the budget with the good news first. “One of the things this budget accomplishes, and we see this this as an accomplishment, is there are no layoffs,” he told the Finance Committee. “It’s pretty much level service in what we are able to provide to students.”

But the school district still faces financial challenges. Special Education costs will increase by $2.6 million next year. Special Education programs and services account for 37 percent of the total school budget proposed for 2018. “We have more than doubled our number of student with severe needs because of the diagnoses of autism,” said Assistant Superintendent Carol Keenan. Special Education transportation costs will also increase from $1.9 million to $2.6 million, about $600,000 more than school officials anticipated.

A new facilities manager and increases in overtime pay and supplies for custodians will add about $325,000 to the cost of maintaining city school buildings next year.

While the 2018 budget proposal represents a 2.6 percent increase over this year’s $67.3 million school budget, the new funding will be needed to cover mandated and essential costs.

During the school year, parents and educators developed a list of priorities that included restoring three librarians to the individual school libraries, hiring three health teachers for grades K-8, establishing a district-wide gifted and talented student program and hiring security personnel for the high school during evening hours. Grandson said there is no money in next year’s budget to pay for those and other priorities set by the community, but the administration can pursue alternative funding such as foundation grants.

Grandson, who was hired last summer as an interim superintendent, was a finalist during this year’s search for a permanent superintendent. However, the School Committee selected Somerville High School Headmaster John Oteri for the job.

Several councillors thanked Grandson for stepping in when the city needed him and praised the work he did over the past year. “You did a fabulous job,” said Councillor-at-Large Debbie DeMaria. “You’ll be missed.”

Ward 7 Councillor Neal Anderson echoed the comments and compliments. “Thank you for what you’ve done this year,” Anderson said. “I’m going to miss you, really miss you.”

Grandson has been keeping Oteri updated on the district’s decisions and news, and he graciously gave the incoming superintendent his vote of confidence. “Malden is in really good hands,” he said.

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