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$32.8 million school plan on hold

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School Committee postpones discussion of the superintendent’s proposed budget for the 2024 Fiscal Year

By Mark E. Vogler

  The School Committee tabled discussion and a potential vote last week (Jan. 19) on Superintendent Erin McMahon’s proposed $32.8 million budget for the 2024 Fiscal Year.

  Had the board proceeded with the hearing that was scheduled on the budget for the Fiscal Year that begins July 1, the superintendent would not have been available to explain it. Earlier in the meeting, School Committee Chair Vincent Serino announced that McMahon had agreed to being placed on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged misconduct (See related story).

  But the discussion and vote on the proposed budget was apparently delayed because of discussions that school officials had with town officials earlier in the day. School Committee Vice Chair John Hatch told colleagues he was not prepared to vote on the budget based on the new information he had learned. School Committee Member Ryan Fisher made the motion to table the budget hearing, committee discussion and vote. Committee members voted 5-0 to table discussion of the school budget-related agenda items.

  McMahon’s budget request is a $2.5 million increase over the School Department’s current $30.3 million appropriation. In the budget message she presented earlier this month, McMahon noted the budget “continues to support a vision for the Saugus Public Schools that will allow our students to grow, learn and feel like they belong in our school community.”
“We will carry out this vision by accelerating, not remediating through the use of high-quality curriculum and educational materials; attracting, developing, and retaining high-performing staff; and ensuring our students feel safe and secure by providing additional social, emotional and cultural support,” the superintendent said. “Through this vision, our ‘moon shot’ is to move Saugus from the bottom 10 percent of districts in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to the top 10 percent in the next four years.”
McMahon cited these as her budget priorities:

  • Priority Number One: “Compensating our educators for their skills, expertise and dedication.” The superintendent said Saugus paraprofessionals and teachers are currently among the lowest paid educators in the region. The median teacher salary among North Shore communities is $85,014 compared to $78,350 in Saugus. In order to retain and attract high quality teachers to Saugus, “we must close the compensation gap,” McMahon said. She proposed setting aside a reserve of close to $500,000 for contract negotiations among three collective bargaining units.
  • Second Priority: “Staffing our schools to serve the changing needs in Saugus. Research shows us that students excel when they have educators who reflect their own cultures.” The superintendent noted that 27 percent of students spoke a first language other than English last year, compared to 16 percent back in 2017. “To ensure we are meeting the needs of all our students, we plan to hire four English Language Learner teachers, one for each school level, and improve communication services for our families,” she said.
  • Third Priority: “Creating a robust program of studies so that students are attracted to and remain in Saugus Public Schools, Prekindergarten through Graduation.” Saugus Public Schools needs to respond to increases in student enrollment at the Veterans Early Learning Center and the Belmonte STEAM Academy. She noted that the Early Learning Center has a single administrator for more than 500 students, one school adjustment counselor and no librarian. “Proper staffing for the VELC means making sure teachers get the support they need so that students learn to read and write on grade level,” the superintendent said.

  The consolidation of the four neighborhood elementary schools had its greatest impact on Belmonte STEAM Academy students, according to McMahon. The school has grown to exceed 800 students this year. “In focus groups and parent/caregiver surveys, our Saugus families have overwhelmingly asked for enrichment opportunities during the school day including Robotics, Band and Chorus,” McMahon said.

  “Teachers have also asked for a mathematics coach to support them in teaching new standards in a curriculum adopted prior to the pandemic. Providing math support and enrichment will prepare 5th graders for the increasing rigor in middle and high school,” she said.

  McMahon noted that her proposed school spending plan “allows for the public schools to respond to the changes in demographics and economic circumstances of our families, while raising the level of expectations for all students, PreK – 12th grade.”

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