Haverhill’s Draft $126.6 Million School Spending Plan Less Than Current Year; Mostly Avoids Layoffs

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

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With money for the next school year falling short of what is needed, Haverhill Public Schools aimed to preserve teaching staff above all in its proposed budget.

Pending final approval, the number comes in at $126.6 million, Assistant Superintendent Michael J. Pfifferling told School Committee members Thursday night. Despite rising prices, the district received around $1 million less in total than last year. Explaining technical terms, Pfifferling said the money is not enough to reach “level funding,” let alone to provide the same “level of services.”

Member Richard J. Rosa said, “You started out the presentation by saying, level funding is not a good thing, and we didn’t even get to level funding. It’s just important that people know.”

Superintendent Margaret Marotta’s said her guiding philosophy was to “have the least impact, day-to-day, on children,” which she identified after surveying the school community and collaborating with principals. Keeping to her word, most proposed cuts lay in positions left unfilled, supplies, professional development and software programs.

Pfifferling told WHAV 17 secretaries, custodians, security and other support personnel, for the most part, are being offered similar positions at buildings with vacancies. One part-time and one full-time employee may lose their jobs. Marotta said at the meeting, “There will be an impact on our classrooms, but we will have the adults there to support our kids.”

Asking the administration to prioritize security personnel if more money becomes available, member Mikaela D. Lalumiere said, “It is super beneficial to have, you guys know that, as many people as possible in the building to help out with situations that arise or kids that need, just, someone to take them somewhere for a little while.”

District leaders began planning for a lean budget after learning they faced an $11.1 million deficit, as WHAV reported. The shortfall resulted from lower state aid than anticipated and the end of American Rescue Plan Act money, which Marotta maintains they have kept in mind since first receiving the infusion.

The state aid formula failed to account for high inflation in recent years, a problem member Thomas Grannemann initially identified. As WHAV reported, districts across the state have encountered similar deficits as Haverhill, with Grannemann calculating the city should have received a cumulative $19.2 million if the promises of the 2019 Student Opportunity Act had been kept.

Committee members commended the superintendent’s office for its hard work and transparency.

“You’ve put together a budget where you’ve cut $10 million from level services, and we’re looking at, potentially, 1.6 layoffs,” Rosa said. “Anybody could go Google other school districts. People that are cutting a fraction of what we’re cutting are eliminating dozens of positions.”

With federal money running dry, and state increases on a downward trend, Pfifferling said the city may have to step up in the future. Massachusetts requires districts to keep their budgets above a certain level. If they fail to do so, they can lose state aid altogether.

“One of the things we need to be cautious of is that, when the state gives us more money, they increase the expectation that the city is going to give us more money also, and that’s not always been the case. As you can see,” he said, pointing to a graph, “It’s gone up every year, but it hasn’t gone up as drastically as the state funds have.”

Still, Marotta said she was thankful for the city’s $800,000 contribution, which meant “the cuts weren’t quite so devastating. We didn’t go so deeply into people.”

Marotta warned members budgeting next year will be even more difficult because the district made the least painful cuts this time around. “If things don’t improve, it’s going to be a really rough year,” she said.

A public hearing will be held the night of Monday, May 20. The administration will ask the School Committee to approve its budget May 23, requesting final approval from City Council May 30.

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