School Committee Approves $70 Million Budget Amid Criticism

School Committeeman Joseph J. Bevilacqua.

The Haverhill School Committee unanimously passed its $70.1 million budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The vote following a public hearing was 7-0 including a vote from Mayor James J. Fiorentini, committee chairman.

Committeeman Joseph J. Bevilacqua said the budget does increase every year, but despite state dollars and other contributions there remains “an affordability issue” with parents and others who speak with him throughout the year.

“They cared about reducing sport athletic fees. We’ve acted upon that. They talked about bringing back the band. Those are important to many parents. It may not be important to everyone but it’s important to some. So the music is back. Keeping arts, the encore subjects. The most important subject, as far as I was concerned and still am, is student achievement. We have the best teachers in Haverhill, there’s no doubt about it, I say it almost every meeting. But there is a limit as to what we can ask taxpayers to pay because we’re not that wealthy a community. And people today have been supportive of Haverhill education,” Bevilacqua said.

Superintendent James F. Scully noted per pupil spending in Haverhill remains below the statewide average among 351 cities and towns, but said the district ranking is moving up from thirteenth to about twentieth lowest.

“The (Massachusetts) average is running at over about $14,000 now and I think we’re up to about $12,300. So its ($14,500) on the (Massachusetts) average of districts, so we have moved up,” Scully said.

Many from the public including teachers turned out at city council chambers Thursday night for the hearing.

Maddox Criticizes Transparency, Lack of Participation

Haverhill public schools pediatrician John L. Maddox called the budget “an educational document, not a financial document.” However, he suggested a better job at public transparency is needed.

“Last year I asked for more public notice. State law requires a seven-day notice in the newspapers. Notice for this public meeting, as far as I can tell, happened two days ago. Facebook, the mayor’s newsletter, Alert Now, none of those formats were used to encourage participation,” Maddox said.

According to school committee President Scott Wood, the public posting for the committee’s budget review meeting two weeks ago at the district offices was incorrect and was originally intended to be held at the high school.

The school budget plan now moves forward to the city council for its review session scheduled on June 9.

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