UPDATED: School Committee to Vote on $88M Budget Largely Sight Unseen: ‘Are We Supposed to Guess What’s In It?’

Haverhill School Committee. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Editor’s Note: The two sides of the School Committee dispute each other’s accounts, as shown below in this updated version. WHAV received, along with Committee members, an emailed version of the budget at 1:45 p.m., Thursday.

Haverhill Public Schools Superintendent Margaret Marotta is asking members of the city’s School Committee to approve the 2020 budget Thursday night—but some sitting on the board tell WHAV they’ll be doing so largely sight unseen.

Though Marotta and the School Committee workshopped a general overview of her proposed $88,856,526 budget for the next school year last month during public sessions at Harbor Place, School Committee member Scott Wood tells WHAV he and others have yet to pore over the hundreds of individual line items—doing a potential disservice to city families and taxpayers.

“I don’t know how any member of the School Committee could vote for a $90 million budget they have never seen. Are we supposed to vote for the budget and guess what’s in it?” Wood wondered. “The superintendent has a responsibility to provide the Committee with the budget in a timely manner and to give us time to review it. She has failed to do so. We owe the students and taxpayers better.”

Fellow Committee member Maura Ryan Ciardiello told WHAV she saw what she called a “recommended budget” during one of two sessions held at downtown’s iHub.

Usually, a “budget book” with all line items is supplied to all Committee members ahead of the public hearing and vote, scheduled to take place Thursday night.

Committee members Richard J. Rosa and Paul A. Magliocchetti tell WHAV the book was readily available from School Business Manager Brian O’Connell. Both Wood and Ryan Ciardiello dispute that account. Rosa and Magliocchetti said they requested and received a copy of the book from O’Connell earlier this week and have been reviewing line items ahead of the meeting.

“All of that information has been available to us. We had multiple finance subcommittee meetings that were posted and the only people who attended were Sven (Amirian), Gail (Sullivan), Rich and I. I feel it’s been the most transparent process since I’ve been on the School Committee,” Magliocchetti said.

Wood and Ryan Ciardiello disagree and received backing from O’Connell Thursday afternoon. Both said they were told as late as last week’s closed-door session of the School Committee that the budget wasn’t ready, but that they would be notified when it was. If it was available from O’Connell, both said, they weren’t told. Wood said the budget—typically a printed book—should have been distributed by last Friday. Ryan Ciardiello added, “only the secret club knew it was out.” She said the full committee used to review the budget, line-by-line, in advance.

“Scott is correct,” O’Connell told WHAV. He explained the budget was still “a work in progress” as late as Monday. Although Rosa and Magliocchetti received draft copies, O’Connell said, other members “would not have known it was available.”

According a summary of budget requests for the 2020 school year released by Marotta last month, Haverhill’s current school budget stands at $84,056,526. She is requesting a 5.7 percent increase to keep her focus on reducing class sizes and providing equitable resources to all students, she said.

WHAV plans to carry Thursday night’s School Committee meeting live starting at 7 p.m. In addition to the budget, Committee members are expected to discuss a food service contract with Whitson’s and receive an update on maintenance work from Facilities Supervisor Heather Forgione.

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