Dr. John L. Maddox urged School Committee members to rescind their approval of the Fiscal Year 2018 school budget to find additional sources of funding.
Despite pleas for increased spending from the public and some members of the School Committee who only days ago approved the document, the school budget for Fiscal Year 2018 remains at $79 million.
A string of speakers called for additional spending for teacher training, dropout prevention, early literacy and increased staffing.
The budget represents a $5.3 million — or 7.1 percent — increase in spending over this year.
Dr. John L. Maddox, a local pediatrician and the school district physician, urged committee members to rescind their approval of the budget and amend it before the close of the current fiscal year.
Maddox argued that shifting demographics in the city are taxing the schools with increasing numbers of economically disadvantaged students, many of whom require additional services.
“You have the option to amend this budget,” Maddox said. “I think you have time to do this right. This budget could be better.”
Maddox also took the committee to task for approving a $380,000 expenditure for the Greenleaf School, which was scheduled to be closed next year after its students were moved to the new Hunking School.
“Voters were told Greenleaf would close and you’re reneging on this promise,” Maddox said.
More importantly, Maddox said, the conditions at Greenleaf, including a failing roof, lack of cafeteria, no handicapped accessibility and inadequate bathroom facilities, are sub-par.
“The Greenleaf isn’t a conducive environment for learning,” he said. “That’s not what kids deserve.”
Maddox said the $380,000 being spent on Greenleaf could instead be used for teacher training, dropout-prevention services or a combination.
Dena Papanikolaou, a Bradford parent, challenged the School Committee to amend the budget to increase spending on programs that would improve the city’s 11.3 percent dropout rate and lift the city’s per-pupil spending, which she said is 18 percent below the state average.
By failing to find ways to increase spending, School Committee members are failing the city’s taxpayers and students, Papanikolaou said.
“You’re sending the message that the budget is good enough. We don’t agree. It needs to be better.”
School Committee members, in spite of their vote to approve the budget, expressed dissatisfaction in the overall spending level.
Committee President Gail Sullivan sought an additional $261,000 for professional development, fearful that federal grant funding in that amount will not materialize. The grant makes up the bulk of the schools’ teacher training account, except for $30,000 earmarked in the budget.
Member Paul A. Magliocchetti said the city should spend another $800,000 to $1 million to fully fund needed services, including professional development and a cadre of 10 social workers.
Referring to the demographic information raised by Maddox, Magliocchetti said five of the city’s principals identified social workers in their schools as a top priority.
“If you visit the schools and talk to teachers, principals and parents, main issue isn’t what is going on in the schools, it’s what going on in the home,” Magliocchetti said.
He urged the mayor to find more money for the schools.
“I’m really tired of hearing that we have to raise taxes and that we have to fire people on the city side in order to meet the needs of our educational community. I believe the money is there, that changes can be made without raising taxes and without laying off police and fire,” Magliocchetti said.
Maddox suggested the city divert $500,000 from the reserve fund and transfer it to the school budget.
Committee members decided to draft a letter asking Mayor James J. Fiorentini to dedicate another $500,000 to the schools.
Fiorentini suggested that the city is in line to receive a potential $300,000 windfall as the result of a host city agreement with a medical marijuana dispensary. Several organizations are looking at the city right now, the mayor said.