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School Board mulls $135M FY25 budget

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By Neil Zolot

EVERETT – The School Department budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 is currently calculated at $135,307,416. Of that, $130,707,416 is the Operating Budget and $4,600,000 is for Special Education Transportation. The overall total is a 5.21% increase over FY 2024’s $128,612,364. The Operating Budget is rising 5.4%, or $6,699,514, over $124,007,902 in FY 2024, while the SPED Transportation Budget is falling .10%, or $4,462, from $4,604,462 in FY 2024.
In the new budget Chapter 70 education aid is rising $6,187,378, or 5.54%, from $111,682,212 to $117,869,590, leaving $43,738,229 as the Required Local Contribution, a 6.78% increase over $40,961,068 in FY 2024. This is offset by a $4,114,162, or 14.37%, increase in chargebacks to City Hall for administrative and retirement expenses, among others things, from $28,635,378 to $32,749,540, plus a new Additional City Appropriation of $1,849,137. Part of the increase is a result of annual salary and cost of living adjustments for employees, increased costs for utilities and retaining 35 positions formerly funded by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds allocated during and after the pandemic. As a result, the FY 2025 budget can be characterized as providing at least “level service.”
A stabilizing factor is a small increase in the number of students from 7,345 to 7,358. The student population has been relatively stable since 2003, when there were 7,285 students after a low point of 6,813 in 2022.
A 5.21% increase is not unusual. Wakefield’s is going up 5.5%. “I am totally satisfied with how the EPS budget office approached this budget cycle,” School Committee Chairperson and Ward 3 Member Jeanne Cristiano said. “The Superintendent and his team have developed a plan that allows us to build on important social-emotional initiatives, expand and enhance instructional supports, and boost student achievement. Most of all, I appreciate the fact that our budget was significantly shaped by collaborative and in-depth conversations with administrators and building leaders from throughout the district. The priorities of this budget reflect the priorities of our schools.”
Chapter 70 funds, outside those raised locally, include $1.9 million from the Student Opportunity Act Plan (SOA) enacted in 2019 to provide funds for students with the greatest needs. “The SOA Plan addresses a subset of a district’s overall initiatives focusing on evidence-based programs and strategies that will improve the educational experiences and outcomes of students, including English Learners, students with disabilities and low-income students,” a memo for the School Committee prepared by Superintendent William Hart reads. “At the heart of the SOA plan is the selection of Evidence-Based Programs we will use to drive improvements for selected student groups. This year, EBPs are aligned with DESE’s [Mass. Dept. of Elementary & Secondary Education] new Educational Vision and Strategic Objectives, along with the recommended menu of metrics we can choose to include in their plans. This year’s guidance establishes an improvement target for districts to include in their SOA plans that focus on the lowest performing student group, along with the option to establish additional targets to support individual student groups as needed based on data analysis.
“To that end, our SOA Plan will spotlight critical, actionable evidence-based programs and strategies that are focused on rapidly improving outcomes for students with low academic performance whether we are enhancing ongoing efforts or introducing new initiatives.”
Over the course of three years, SOA funds will total $5.7 million.
“The district was given guidance from DESE as to which student group should be most impacted by the SOA Plans,” Director of Instruction Anne Auger elaborated for the School Committee at their meeting Monday, March 18. “Based on those guidelines and the district’s academic outcome data, we’ll address English as a Learned Language in Grades K-8. Our plan seeks to invest in filling three evidence-based priorities: a comprehensive approach to early literacy, early literacy screening and support and targeted academic support and acceleration.”
“Are these students struggling with food insecurity, shelter insecurity or, possibly, mental health issues?” Ward 2 School Committee Member Joanna Garren asked. “I didn’t see any information about root causes for disparate outcomes or basic needs.”
“DESE asks us to look at data within our control, like instructional programs,” Auger answered. “They send us a heat map with a lot of data, and it behooves us to pick data from that as to why we’re going to pursue certain initiatives.”
The CoderZ Knowledge Base website defines Heat Maps, which are more like tables or spread sheets than geographic maps, as “detailed activity reports that allow teachers to monitor student interaction with course content such as missions, quizzes, and videos. Heat Maps provide information on a per student or per class level, with options to drill deeper to see student quiz question results, mission code, and time spent on each activity.
“Heat Maps allow teachers to identify activities that the class is struggling with, identify individual students who may need additional support and monitor the rate at which students are moving through the content.”
“Investing in early literacy and educating young students serves us all, but, for our district, in Middle and High School grades we also need targeted support,” School Committee Vice Chair and Member At-Large Samantha Lambert reacted. “Given the transitional nature of our district, young people coming to us in 7-9th grades are likely to graduate with us.”

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