Supt. McMahon letter warns school district staff of up to 32 possible layoffs if her FY 23 budget isn’t approved
Saugus School Superintendent Erin K. McMahon has advised Saugus Public Schools staff to be prepared for layoffs if the Annual Town Meeting doesn’t back her spending plan for the 2023 Fiscal Year that begins July 1. “If the School Committee’s proposed budget is not adopted, the district may be forced to cut as many as 32 positions, in addition to the planned reduction of twelve positions based on enrollment decline,” McMahon wrote in a letter this week that was addressed to “Dear Fellow Educators.”
“This would include administrators, paraprofessionals and all teachers – classroom teachers, special education teachers, and teachers of specials. The impact on our district and children would be significant,” McMahon warned. “I know this is worrisome and I don’t communicate this message to scare our community but rather to prepare you for the challenging times that may lie ahead.”
The letter comes nearly a week after McMahon’s appearance before the Finance Committee, where members didn’t offer supportive feedback in their review of her proposed budget. The superintendent seeks a $1.5 million increase in the current budget – about $1.1 million more than what Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree has recommended.
With the town already facing a $1.2 million structural deficit in the overall town budget, Finance Committee members called the superintendent’s request unsustainable. Some members said the town has supported education, but questioned whether the money was being spent properly by the School Department.
School Committee’s response
The Saugus Advocate reached out to the five School Committee members for reaction to the superintendent’s letter. In an email to the newspaper on Wednesday night (March 30), School Committee Vice Chair Vincent Serino provided the following statement as a response from the whole committee:
“We’re not going to put the cart before the horse, at this point we have not had any layoffs and are currently looking to avoid layoffs. It’s important that we be totally transparent to our hard-working teachers, administrators and support staff and parents of this district to be aware of any and all possibilities. Our budget is an open book. The increased services our students and families need and deserve were made worse by Covid and are straining our budget. We will continue to identify non-personal savings to keep the budget balanced.
“While we continue work on our budget for next year, both the Commonwealth and the Town of Saugus work on theirs. There are many unknowns. We are only midway through this cycle, but it’s our responsibility to plan for all contingencies.
“We have always welcomed public comment at every School Committee meeting, and continue to do so now. Our process is open.”
Here is what Supt. McMahon wrote earlier this week:
Dear Fellow Educators.
I am communicating with you today to keep you updated on the status of the budget process in the Town of Saugus. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth are facing rising costs and shrinking resources.
I understand the potential outcome of the budget decision may cause concern and anxiety among our staff and families, which is why I will be as transparent as possible during this process.
For those familiar with last year’s budget process, we anticipated that our budget would be tight this school year. We have focused on acceleration (teaching on grade level rather than remediation) and developing a sense of belonging for students and staff. Providing both academic and social emotional support for students is critical as Saugus students and staff returned to in-person school, with schools consolidating (four elementary schools to two, PreK- 1st grade and 2nd -5th grade), in new buildings.
Unfortunately, a number of things have created even greater financial challenges over the course of this school year, including:
- Continued COVID costs
- A 45% increase in out-of-district tuition
- An increase in costs for both special education and regular transportation
We are legally obligated to provide tuition and transportation to all students who cannot be served by the Saugus Public Schools. And while the district has received federal funding to help offset the impacts of COVID, the grants expire in two years, which means it is not financially responsible to use that money for ongoing expenses such as salaries and students’ tuition that we could potentially pay for over the next decade.
As a result of these challenges, the district is facing more than $1.5 million budget gap, in addition to enrollment decline, driven largely by a jump in out-of-district tuition for special needs students (more than $800K), personnel contractual obligations (pay for teachers, clerks and paraprofessionals) and a reserve for union negotiations, as well as vendor contracts.
Proposal for 2023
For those reasons, the Saugus School Committee proposed a $31,330,073 budget for Fiscal Year 2023 that would ensure Saugus Public Schools has appropriate staffing to meet the educational and emotional needs of our students and funds our required obligations. At the same time, it would allow us to pursue our goal of moving Saugus from the bottom 10 percent of Massachusetts districts to the top ten in five years.
We understand the Town of Saugus is also facing significant financial constraints, which will require town leaders to make difficult decisions. Our goal is to work together so that town services are not working against each other but instead, lay out the facts about how potential cuts would impact the School Department. The current proposed allocation for the School Department is $400,000, leaving a projected deficit of $1,054,823.
If the School Committee’s proposed budget is not adopted, the district may be forced to cut as many as 32 positions, in addition to the planned reduction of twelve positions based on enrollment decline. This would include administrators, paraprofessionals and all teachers – classroom teachers, special education teachers, and teachers of specials. The impact on our district and children would be significant.
I know this is worrisome and I don’t communicate this message to scare our community but rather to prepare you for the challenging times that may lie ahead. Know that I will continue to keep you updated as the town budget process moves forward.
We look forward to continuing to work with our town and community partners as we rise out of the state’s bottom 10 percent.
Still, Onward and Upward,