Superintendent McMahon seeks a $1.5 million increase in School Department budget to reach top 10 educational goal in five years
For Saugus Public Schools to realize its goal of “catapulting” from the bottom 10 percent of Massachusetts public education systems to the state’s “Top 10,” the district needs to make sure its budget “is aligned” to that objective, Saugus Public Schools Superintendent Erin McMahon Erin McMahon declared this week. That was her message to the Saugus School Finance Subcommittee on Wednesday night as she briefed members on the $1.5 million increase she has proposed for the School Department budget for the 2023 Fiscal Year that begins July 1.
Her budget request is just over $31 million – an increase of 4.87 percent of the current school spending plan.McMahon’s proposed budget received rave reviews and the endorsement of the Finance Subcommittee. She had planned to make a budget presentation last night before the full School Committee. Members are expected to vote on the budget at next week’s meeting (Jan. 20).
“The truth of the matter is we could have asked for a lot more,” School Committee Vice-Chair Vincent Serino said. The School Department would be justified in seeking a higher amount, according to Serino.
McMahon said that she and Pola G. Andrews, the School Department’s Executive Director of Finance and Administration, “could have gone north of $2 million.”
The School Department budget has been a subject of great contention in recent years. McMahon’s predecessor – David DeRuosi, Jr., who served as Saugus School Superintendent for five years before leaving last June 30 – had drawn criticism for not lobbying hard enough for School Department budget increases. DeRuosi last year requested a School Department budget of $30,073,439 – a 1.68 percent increase.
Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree’s proposed operating budget for Saugus Public Schools – which Town Meeting approved – was about $29.9 million – $300,000 over the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. But Supt. McMahon, who is in her first year of a five-year contract, is committed to turning around the town’s underperforming school district. Before she was hired as superintendent, she served as a top official in state Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley’s office.
One of the big discussion points is going to be the budget pressure resulting from increased out-of-district placements, and increased social/emotional support resulting from the pandemic, according to School Committee Member Ryan Fisher, who chairs the School Finance Subcommittee.
Supt. McMahon noted that school enrollment has declined over the past five years, with the school district having almost 200 fewer students. “My goal is to reduce out-of-district replacement,” she said, adding that Dawn E. Trainor, the School Department’s Director of Pupil Personnel Services and Adult Education, will be leading a special education program audit to help accomplish that task.
Adding to the challenges of turning the School Department around are those generated by COVID-19, especially remote learning, which contributed to learning problems, according to the superintendent. “We have kids whose needs are even more significant because of the time we were unable to serve them in the pandemic,” the superintendent said at Wednesday’s meeting.
She lauded a dedicated and talented teaching staff for helping to meet the everyday challenges of COVID-19. “I can’t say enough about how hard our teachers are working,” she said.
COVID-19 has set educational learning in Saugus back, particularly in the early grades, McMahon stressed. “Our second grade teachers are dealing with kindergartners … Every student in the Veterans Learning Center has never been in school,” she said.
“We as an educational community are dealing with a lot of trauma and a lot of social/emotional distancing,” she said.
A key feature of the budget unveiled this week by McMahon is the addition of a new dean’s position program. One of these staff members – who have trained to assist students with emotional and mental health issues – would be assigned to each school. They would assist school principals. They have been described as teacher leaders.
“I think this is a great idea. It’s outside the box and I commend you for that,” Serino said.