Haverhill school administrators say, as a result of the toll the pandemic has taken on students, the school budget for next year needs to increase by more than $8 million and include 70 new employees.
School Superintendent Margaret Marotta presented a proposed budget of little more than $106 million to the School Committee last night. That figure compares to about $98 million for the current school budget, but does include an additional $7.6 million in one-time federal money.
Marotta said the increase is in large part because students, next year, must make up for educational losses this year while continuing to learn new curriculum. She said to do that, educators need to spend more time and dedicated attention to individual students. In addition, she said COVID-19 has created other issues that need to be addressed.
“We need to pay attention to their mental health. We have to coach our teachers and support our teachers because this is new to them and we’re expecting a lot from them. We’re going to continue to look at smaller class sizes and really increase our special education inclusion supports. Our students with disabilities have had a rough year and we really want to ensure that that group of students and all students get what they need next year,” she said.
Marotta said meeting these objectives require, at least for the time being, additional personnel such as additional classroom teachers, educational support professionals in every kindergarten, math coaches and interventionists, adjustment councilors and staff increases in non-classroom positions.
Mayor James J. Fiorentini responded by expressing concern over using federal pandemic relief money to increase staff.
“This is one-time money. We use it to add 70 staff members, we are setting up a disaster. It is naïve to think that these 70 positions can be eliminated. They can’t be and it’s going to be very, very difficult for a future School Committee and a future mayor to eliminate,” he said.
Marotta told the Committee she understands the hesitancy to use the federal funds for long term projects, and the amount being asked for was a significant increase over last year’s budget, but she is convinced that it is a necessary investment.
“You know, schools are really three things. They’re buildings and they’re books and they’re people, and what our kids need is people right now and I understand the concern. I know it is an overwhelming number but I think that our kids need it,” she said.
The budget will be posted today on the Haverhill Public Schools website. It will also be addressed further by the School Committee and City Council and be part of a public hearing before it is finally voted on June 10.