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School Committee Meeting July 6, 2023

$12 Fee Increase Per Student Will Fund Freshman Sports

At last week’s School Committee meeting – which saw the addition of new members Brian Ota and Jenn Schaeffner and the departure of incumbent Sarah Gold – much of the conversation revolved around potential budget cuts made necessary in the wake of the defeat of the recent tax override in the town election on June 20.


The freshman sports program in particular received significant attention, with Schaeffner pushing to reinstate the program immediately and Superintendent John Buckey arguing that any reversal to the proposed cuts would undermine his authority and the likelihood of success of future overrides. 


Freshman sports was on the agenda again yesterday, July 6, 2023, with the School Committee meeting to – among other agenda items – hear a report on how much the student user fees would need to be increased to cover the cost of the freshman sports program. While the overall cost of saving the program was originally billed at $16,000, Buckey later reported that it would actually cost $40,000, including transportation costs not previously incorporated.


Prior to today’s meeting, former Select Board member Michael Rockett had stepped forward and offered to cover the full cost of reinstating freshman sports. In a phone call with Marblehead Beacon, he expressed his frustration with the fact that this cut was on the table in the first place, noting that “to pick this out is just plain wrong,” particularly given the fact that “sports, for some kids, is what brings them back to studying” and that the availability of freshman teams – where younger kids can gain experience separate from their older classmates – is simply a “safety issue.” He also questioned the change in the estimate from $16,000 to $40,000, asking, “What is the number?” Whatever the superintendent said it was originally, he should “have to stand by it.”


Rockett’s offer was not ultimately accepted, with the School Committee instead opting to increase the student user fee from $483 to $495. School Committee Chair Sarah Fox noted, “I’m not going to cancel sports for $12.”


While the family-cap increase is more significant – from $622 to $800 – Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Michelle Cresta explained that this number is actually still significantly lower than that charged in other districts, which she said was closer to $1,000. According to the FamilyId website, for example, Swampscott user fees for the 2022-2023 school year were $375 per student, per sport, with a $1,875 family cap.


The School Committee voted four to zero to approve the reinstatement of freshman sports, with member Meagan Taylor arriving late to the meeting and therefore absent for this vote. 


Other meeting highlights included:


A request for an audit of the town’s special education outplacements and related cost increases, with the goal of identifying more effective ways of serving these students’ needs within the district. The motion to request the audit was approved four to one, with Meagan Taylor in opposition.


A request that the administrative leadership team provide the School Committee with information on enrollment numbers, class sizes, and the discrepancy between Marblehead’s class-size reporting and the student-teacher ratio reported by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “I see enrollment and I see teacher ratio,” said Schaeffner, but “something doesn’t add up…do we have classrooms with more than one educator?” Alison Taylor concurred, noting that this is “the next level of transparency that we need to get to,” as did Fox, who said, “I think this is something that the community as a whole has been screaming from the rooftops…. I don’t know what the answer is, but essentially we need it.”


Subcommittee assignments were handed out, as follows:


Budget: Sarah Fox and Jenn Schaeffner

Collective Bargaining: Sarah Fox and Jenn Schaeffner

Curriculum:  Brian Ota and Jenn Schaeffner

Facilities: Sarah Fox and Alison Taylor

Health and Wellness: Alison Taylor

Metco: Meagan Taylor

Policy: Jenn Schaeffner and Alison Taylor

Safety: Brian Ota

SEPAC: Meagan Taylor


Finally, the School Committee scheduled a meeting that will take place in executive session – without public participation – to discuss issues surrounding a personnel matter associated with one of the school athletic programs. Fox noted that the slide presented at a recent School Committee meeting about school-related Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests had raised some questions, and the School Committee had requested a copy of a related report. “The concern has been brought forth,” Fox explained, “was there a lag time on bringing this through the chain of command? When was the investigation started?” Fox emphasized that the School Committee’s focus would be on the policy ramifications, noting that relevant questions included, “Was there information in that report that would change policy? Do we have a hole in our policy? When did all of this come to light?” The School Committee will meet in executive session on July 20 to review this issue. 


The next public School Committee meeting will be held on August 7, 2023. Billed as the annual summer retreat – possibly the first of two – the meeting will take place from 8 a.m. to noon.


Editor's note: This article originally said that the user fee was increasing from $471 to $495. $471 was the cost last year. The fee for the upcoming year was originally increased to $483 and then again to $495 to cover freshman sports.


Editor’s note: Jenn Schaeffner is a Marblehead Beacon founder and editor. She took a leave of absence from Marblehead Beacon during her campaign for School Committee and is recusing herself from any issues surrounding School Committee coverage.