Haverhill Schools, Mayor Come Closer on $128 Million Budget; Debt Vote Could Help Finance It

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The Haverhill School Committee last night held firm on its $128 million spending plan—and won a level of support from the mayor—after school administrators presented facts and figures on how that money would be used to improve education.

At the last meeting, Committee members learned the city would not be providing an expected $3.3 million to that budget and school administrators were told by Mayor James J. Fiorentini they must make cuts to stay within the city’s total budget.

Instead, however, school officials returned with a presentation explaining why there is no room to make budget cuts while still preserving a quality education for students. Assistant School Superintendent Michael J. Pfifferling began by citing a survey conducted earlier this year asking parents, teachers and others what was most important to them regarding school spending.

“We did a community survey to all of our parents, all of our staff members, of what they thought our budget priorities should be. The top three from the community were to improve our schools safety, retain and recruit high quality staff and continue to have low student to teacher ratios,” he explained.

Pfifferling said responses determined what he called the “drivers of the budget,” including salaries, transportation costs, increases in special education expenses, utilities and inflation. He said, in all, these expenses totaled more than $9 million just to provide level services for the upcoming school year.

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta said, ideally, the goal is to provide more than level services. She said if there are not any unexpected expenses, she is hopeful that some other needs could be met with the proposed budget.

“If prices remain controlled, then there would be a little room in the budget to do some things beyond level service. Those things would potentially include adding some at-risk liaisons to support kids getting to school. We’d like to add some classes for kids with social-emotional disabilities. Our kids have big needs right now,” she said.

For his part, Fiorentini said he spoke with members of the school department and the finance department looking for ways to provide a level services budget.

“I was surprised to find at the last meeting that it wasn’t level service and I’ve agreed to add an additional $1.8 million in funding to the budget. This brings us to where all of you said you wanted to be, a level services budget,” he said.

The mayor added if the debt exclusion passes on June 6, he will tell the City Council they may increase spending for the school budget by an additional $1.6 million

Following the school department presentation, Committee member Toni Sapienza-Donais said she was convinced the budget as presented is not excessive and motioned to pass the budget of just under $128 million. That passed by a vote of 6-0 with the mayor voting “present.”

The proposed budget will be presented to the public for their input next Thursday. Following that, the School Committee will take a final vote and present it to the City Council.

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