As Federal Aid Ends, Haverhill School Budget Shortfalls on the Horizon This Year and Next

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

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With the combination of next year’s end of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program and ongoing negotiations over salary increases for school personnel, the Haverhill School Committee and school administrators are taking a hard look at financing the school year.

At last Thursday’s committee meeting, Assistant School Superintendent Michael J. Pfifferling addressed those still unsettled contracts.

“Currently, we have six unsettled contracts. That’s the administrators, the ESPs, the maintenance department, the non-unit therapists, the clerical group and the transportation group. We’re in negotiations with five of those six right now. We have not yet met with the transportation group. Also, we settled with the nurses just at the end of the school year and our cafeteria also settled just after the start of the fiscal year,” he said.

Based on these upcoming costs, Pfifferling estimates the current budget must increase by an additional $1.75 million for the current school year and another $951,000 for the following year.

Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti responded by saying city taxpayers cannot be asked to foot these costs over and over.

“We’ve been sitting on a powder keg for a long time. It’s a problem that’s got to be solved and I believe we can do it. It’s going to take some work but I believe everyone out there needs to know the kinds of numbers that we’re looking at,” he said.

Magliocchetti added, while salary increases are necessary in order for Haverhill to be competitive with other school districts in the area, he said is afraid of making promises today that might lead to personnel cuts further down the road. He said the answer must come from the state stepping up their contributions.

Adding additional fuel to the fire, Committee member Gail M. Sullivan raised the need for salary increases for substitute teachers. She said frequently educational support professionals are being pulled off the jobs helping special needs students in order to fill in for absent teachers because the city is not attracting enough qualified substitutes to cover those jobs.

“Lynnfield is $175 a day. Amesbury is $125. We’re at $105. I can see why we can’t compete,” she said.

Sullivan proposed increasing substitutes’ salaries to $125 per day in order to at least be competitive. Committee member Toni Sapienza-Donais, however, pointed out Methuen pays substitutes $150 per day and suggested that would be a better figure to shoot for.

Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. countered that while he did not disagree with the need for more competitive compensation for substitute teachers, he said it is inappropriate to be discussing it before the ongoing union contracts were settled.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini asked if school administrators could come up with a projected total and members agreed to wait until next meeting before making any decisions.

That didn’t stop some members a few minutes later, behind closed doors, to vote to drop legal action against striking teachers. That litigation aims to recover about $485,00 for extending the school year and police detail expenses. Officials said there is also an unknown total to pay a Boston law firm. The Haverhill Education Association already paid about $200,000.

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