School Committee Debates Adding $1 Million More to Budget

Haverhill School Committee members debate next year’s $84 million proposed budget. (WHAV News photograph.)

Incoming Haverhill School Superintendent Margaret Marotta. (WHAV News photograph.)

The stage is set for a battle to increase the Haverhill school budget by $1 million more than the mayor’s already-promised $5 million increase.

Haverhill School Committee members voted Monday night to add three new administrators at a cost of roughly $200,000 but offset the costs by cutting other amounts in the proposed $84 million education budget. However, member Sven A. Amirian said he is willing to advocate for an override of the state’s tax-limiting law, Proposition 2 ½, to gain another million dollars.

“Am I willing to consider an override to make this happen. Of course, I am,” Amirian said.

Amirian proposed adding a little more than $1 million to pay for a list of what were described by school staff as “necessary additional services” that were not included in Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s school budget for the year beginning July 1. Amirian said his proposal would increase the school budget by 7.65 percent over the current year instead of the mayor’s proposed 6.3 percent. The added expenses include autism program, therapeutic, special education and music teachers; adjustment counselors; security upgrades; new science curriculum; and other services.

Amirian said additional money for schools also could come from Medicare reimbursements to the city or from the city’s free cash. “I don’t think we need an override, but I’m willing to take it that far.”

The mayor reminded members the school budget total is set by the mayor, but the School Committee may decide spending within that amount.

“The budget that goes to the City Council is the number that I give. Any amendments—$2 million, $10 million or $100 million—it doesn’t matter,” Fiorentini said.

Fiorentini, in a reference to two recent murders, said any extra money the city receives will be allocated to police and not to schools. “I have a crisis in the city right now with public safety. Any extra resources that come in will be allocated there,” he said.

Fiorentini said he is using 58 percent of the city’s free cash to balance the budget—about $6 million. While schools are receiving a 6.3 percent increase, he added, the total city budget is up 3.3 percent. He said he opposes any tax overrides and expects the public is against it as well.

Action on Amirian’s motion was tabled while members seek more information. The School Committee is expected to vote on the budget Thursday and have a public hearing either June 4 or 6. Haverhill city councilors are expected to receive the budget tonight.

School Committee members voted to add an English language arts supervisor and special education supervisor at a cost of about $100,000 each in salary plus benefits, and a mental health clinician at a cost of about $60,000 plus benefits. incoming Superintendent Margaret Marotta answered questions about how the Salem school district uses the clinician as part of its Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) program. She said the program helps students with brain injuries or having a psychiatric crisis successfully return to the classroom.

Fiorentini and member Scott W. Wood Jr. voted against the new English and special education positions. Fiorentini voted present on the mental health job. Member Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello also voted against the special education and mental health posts. Members Paul A. Magliocchetti, Gail M. Sullivan and Richard Rosa supported the new additions.