Mayor’s proposed $91.3M city allocation for schools is about a $9M single-year increase; believed to be largest single-year hike in city history
By Steve Freker
Malden Public Schools officials on Monday night unveiled a proposed FY24 budget that would allow the School Department the opportunity to address a number of pressing needs in the 2023-24 academic year. Malden Public Schools is poised to take that step largely due to a proposed increase of approximately $12 million from last year’s school budget, due to a recommended $91.38 million allocation from the office of Mayor Gary Christenson. This is believed to be one of the largest single-year increases in municipal history, up $9.2 million from last year’s final municipal allocation of $82.1 million.
Malden Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Toni Mertz made a presentation on the preliminary School Department budget at Monday night’s School Committee meeting that was well received by the members present.
Assistant Supt. Mertz on Tuesday explained that the Malden Public Schools proposal that her department and central administration had formulated for the city’s allocation totaled $88.6 million. With the $91.38 million proposed allocation by Mayor Christenson, that would leave $2,272,287 in additional funding – above the School Department’s initial request – where some pressing needs could be addressed, she said.
“This would not have happened without the efforts of our state delegation for the state funding portion and the Mayor’s Office in providing the recommended allocation,” Assistant Supt. Mertz said.
She detailed the initial plans for the expenditure of the additional $2.27 million in funding that is expected to be available to the Malden Public Schools. These would all be additions to what is already proposed the be funded:
—Building monitors: all schools.
—School culture officers: all schools.
—Adjustment counselors: in some schools where needed.
—Spanish teachers: Linden and Ferryway Schools.
—Wilson Reading: Forestdale School.
—Registered Behavioral Technician (RBT): Ferryway School.
—Assistant Principal: Forestdale. (There has been only one for several years.)
—Administrative Assistant: Forestdale School.
—STEM Teacher: Forestdale School.
—Math Teacher: High School.
—Health Teacher: High School.
—English Learner Coach: District.
“These are all staffing additions to the classrooms,” Superintendent Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy said at the meeting. “We need ‘boots on the ground’ to support our existing staff and students and that is what we would be doing here.”
The new staffing would encompass the entire school district, Ward 5 School Committee member Adam Weldai noted. Weldai, before the budget presentation, spoke on work already underway to address needs at the Early Learning Center (ELC). Meetings have been held with staff and ELC Principal Tamara Lawrence, he said, and plans are in place that would increase staffing in the form of seven new RBT personnel, the addition of a new classroom, the return of a full-time Program Manager, the addition of a building monitor and other additions.
“We needed to make that investment and we are committed to it,” Weldai said, adding that additional meetings specifically to address the ELC and its staffing are planned.
“I still believe we are not getting our fair share of Chapter 70 aid,” Assistant Supt. Mertz said of the direct state aid received for education. “When you compare us to other similar communities, they are getting far more Chapter 70 funding. For instance, Chelsea has about 100 more students than Malden, and receives about $50 million more in Chapter 70 than we do.”
She encouraged all to continue to advocate to change the formula and try to get more Chapter 70 funding for Malden. “The staffing we could provide and what we could do with that $50 million would be such a benefit to our schools.”
Ward 5 School Committee member Adam Weldai echoed her comments. “Now is the time we can be lulled into a sense of complacency with our funding sources seemingly providing what we need, but the numbers are going to change as the city’s required contribution percentage increases along with the Chapter 70 funding,” Weldai said. “Please, everyone – not just Malden residents – contact your state legislators and ask them to work to adjust and change the formula for determining Chapter 70 aid.”
Mayor Christenson, who is chairperson of the School Committee, also spoke on this issue, noting that the community is grateful for the state delegation’s “diligence in pursuing funding for Malden’s schools,” particularly through the full funding of the Mass. Student Opportunity Act (SOA) as well as more Chapter 70 funding for this year.
Malden State Senator Jason Lewis (D-5th Middlesex) is in his second term as chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education and authored the SOA. Malden State Representative Steven Ultrino also serves on that committee, as vice chair.
Mayor Christenson also noted the efforts of Malden Chief Strategy Officer Ron Hogan in researching and recommending actions regarding the Chapter 70 funding issue.
Next up in the budget process is another Malden School Committee budget subcommittee meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, May 8. Information on how to tune in will be on the School Department (www.maldenps.org) and City of Malden (www.cityofmalden.org) websites. A formal public hearing on the school budget proposal is also upcoming with information appearing on the same two websites.