For a change, no changes: Councillors’ unanimous vote came without amendments after careful review by Finance Committee
By Steve Freker
For a change, there were no changes. The Malden City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $215 million municipal budget which, though lean overall, did feature one of the largest single-year increases in funding for the Malden Public Schools. It represents an eight percent increase overall over last year’s budget of $198.6 million.
The striking observation of the whole process this year was that of the dozens of departments and hundreds of line items, the Councillors approved the exact budget appropriation they received as proposed by the Mayor’s Office. This came after careful review by the City Council’s Finance Committee, which was chaired by first-term Councillor-at-Large Carey McDonald.
“Not one dollar was changed in the budget that came down from the Mayor’s Office,” Councillor-at-Large Craig Spadafora, the longest-serving Councillor in continuous terms, now spanning parts of three decades, said at Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting.
“There’s never been a budget where this has occurred, to my recollection,” Councillor Spadafora added. “In all my years on the Council, this is the only time I recall where we have voted in a budget with no proposed amendments and no changes.
Spadafora and Finance Committee Chairperson McDonald both had praise for the city’s finance team, which included Chief Strategy Officer Ron Hogan, Mayoral Chief of Staff Maria Luise, City Controller Chuck Ranaghan and City Treasurer Dan Grover, along with members of their respective staffs. “It was a team effort,” said Councillor McDonald, who chaired close to a dozen Finance Committee meetings regarding the FY24 budget. “It is essentially a steady as she goes budget, no major changes in personnel or expenditures with one big exception – the Malden Public Schools.”
McDonald noted the single-year increase of nearly $12 million which resulted in a budget of approximately $91 million, by far the biggest line item in the overall number. While there was exactly one new position created on the city side of the budget, the addition of a full-time Recovery Coach as an assistant to Recovery Coordinator Paul Hammersley, that was the only personnel change of the 461 total employees in city government. McDonald pointed out that on the schools’ side a total of 43 new positions were added as a result of the increased funding, which came from both an increase in the Student Opportunity Act (SOA) funds and an increase in Chapter 70 aid from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The school personnel additions include moving all previously Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSR) grant positions from the previous two budgets into fully funded positions. A number of new teacher positions were added to address needs as well as the addition of administrative posts, such as assistant principals at all of the K-8 schools. Two new Dean of Students positions are being added to Malden High School’s administrative team, to deal directly with student discipline and school culture, McDonald also noted, as well a number of behavioral specialists, plus more school adjustment counselors to address students’ mental health and social-emotional well-being.
McDonald also praised the addition of new media specialists at all of the schools as well as funding to fully staff out-of-school programs, before and after school. Also, he said, “Our library will meet state standards as well as exploring additional hours for increased access, our DPW is fully staffed with our staff upping its game as to field maintenance in the parks.
“We have also added funding to help maintain our cybersecurity for the IT Department in light of this past year’s cyberattack on our information systems as well as the addition of two new engines for our Fire Department,” McDonald said.
“We did not have any edits or any proposed changes,” McDonald said. “[Strategy Officer] Ron Hogan is like a dog with a bone in this whole process on every detail, and it was a real group effort.”
One recurring theme in the budget process is the fact that an issue with the state educational funding source formula does not match up with the city’s demographic and financial status, a problem down the road that would have to be addressed. Also, some one-time funding to create the balanced budget was used.
“We are using $3 million in free cash and also some ARPA [federal American Rescue Act] funds. This is not sustainable in the long term,” said Ward 4 Councillor Ryan O’Malley, “but we are thankful to be adding funding for our school department and supporting our students.”