Haverhill School Committee Votes 6-1 to Pass Budget; Maintenance Cut a Fresh Concern

Haverhill School Committee member Gail M. Sullivan. (WHAV News file photograph)

The Haverhill School Committee approved a budget for the 2023 school year last night, even as a controversial decision to have the schools pay half the cost of health insurance for new employees, remained a thorn in the side for some.

As previously reported by WHAV, Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s budget calls for the School Department to pay $603,000 of that cost—a motion the Committee narrowly passed a week ago by a 4-3 vote. Vice Chair Toni Sapienza-Donais and Committee members Scott W. Wood Jr., Maura Ryan-Ciardiello and the mayor voted in favor while Richard J. Rosa, Paul A. Magliocchetti and Gail M. Sullivan were opposed.

Among those requesting the Committee reconsider its position was School Physician Dr. John L. Maddox.

“I think this is an opportunity to close the achievement gap. It seems like if there are needs on the city side to cover some of the health insurance, there are provisions in the ARPA funds and I am just really asking you to reconsider this vote and go with fully funding the Student Opportunities Act,” he urged.

The mayor argued the school department paid at least a portion of health care costs in previous years.

Another budget issue arose when Sullivan reported the Finance Subcommittee also voted to cut the job of assistant facilities director, which has been an intrical part of solving day-to-day issues. She said the job has been especially critical while Facilities Director Stephen D. Dorrance is involved with planning the replacement of the Dr. Albert B. Consentino School.

“The Finance Subcommittee in a 2-1 vote requested that we eliminate the assistant director of facilities. So, how will that affect the maintenance in the schools? Are we going to go back to schools being poorly maintained?” Sullivan asked. School Superintendent Margaret Marotta responded she is also concerned and has received no clear answers.

Magliocchetti said the cut is “counterintuitive” when Dorrance is taking on added responsibility for Consentino while his support is being taken away.

Fiorentini pointed out the School Department is ending the year with a surplus totaling enough to cover that position and suggested the administration send the money back to the city to be reallocated to the 2023 budget. No action was taken on the suggestion, however, and the Committee went ahead with their vote approving next year’s budget by a vote of 6-1 with Sullivan as the lone dissenting vote.

Following the meeting, Rosa explained why he ultimately supported the budget. “I’m extremely disappointed the budget was cut last week by $600,000. I voted for the budget today because there are a lot of things in that budget that are going to help our school district,” he said.

Among those items, he said, are expansion of the Gateway program, additional interventionists and English language learners’ coach.

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