School Committee Perspectives: What Happens if Override Doesn't Pass?
Last week, Marblehead Beacon published an article reviewing the first of three questions sent to the candidates running for two open seats on the Marblehead School Committee, focusing on the academic performance of Marblehead’s students. Today, we review our second question, which addresses the $2.5 million tax increase slated to appear as Question 1 on the June 20 ballot.
The Select Board and School Committee chose to make this a combined override vote, with the proceeds going to fund costs for both the town and the schools. It is a general override of Proposition 2 ½, which means it becomes a permanent part of Marblehead’s tax levy annually going forward. We will address the Select Board candidates’ perspectives in a future article. Today, we ask the School Committee candidates to weigh in on the following question:
Together with the town, the Marblehead School Committee is currently pursuing an override of Prop 2 ½ to raise an additional $2.5 million annually in tax revenues. The superintendent has publicized a series of cuts that will be implemented should the override not pass, including the removal of freshman sports at the high school and of language instruction at the middle school. Should the override fail, do you support going forward with these specific cuts? Do you think there are other ways to address budget shortfalls, and if so, what specifically do you advocate?
At the most recent School Committee meeting on June 1, 2023, Superintendent John Buckey posted a slide (shown below) outlining the cuts that are expected on the school side if the override fails. “I’ve said this multiple times over the past couple of days,” he said. “This list is not up to negotiation….I just want to be crystal clear; these cuts will be made should the override not pass.”
While a majority of the current School Committee members appear to support the current list of cuts, there is a question as to whether or not a newly constituted School Committee will have a similar perspective. Current board members include Sarah Fox, Sarah Gold, Thomas Mathers, Alison Taylor, and Meagan Taylor. Sarah Gold is currently up for re-election, and Thomas Mathers – who was appointed to fill a seat on the board in the wake of the resignation of Emily Barron – is not running.
Massachusetts law substantially limits the role of School Committees to only three areas, one of which is to “review and approve budgets for public education in the district.” It is not uncommon for budgetary changes to be implemented during the course of the fiscal year, with transfers made from one line item to another with School Committee approval.
Because of the importance of the School Committee’s role in defining the district’s budget, and because the override has been presented as essential to maintaining level services, Marblehead Beacon asked the candidates to share their perspectives on the Superintendent’s list of cuts.
Their answers are provided below, in alphabetical order, similar to our first School Committee article, but this time starting with the second candidate in the rotation.
Editor’s note: Gold's responses were not included in the first article because they arrived past the deadline and after publication. However, they will be included here and and in the third and final article focusing on the School Committee campaign.
“The list of cuts will remain intact if the override does not pass. The School Committee spoke about this in a recent meeting. It would be beyond the purview of the School Committee to step in at this kind of operational level. The Superintendent worked with other district and building administrators to come up with the list of cuts; he did not make this up on his own. This list is incredibly painful to look at and attempt to comprehend. It will impact all children in the Marblehead Public Schools in some way, including the children of the current Committee members. None of these decisions were arrived at lightly and they are devastating to consider. I advocate for the passing of the Prop 2 ½ override so none of these cuts come to fruition.”
“I support the cuts as outlined by the Superintendent. The Superintendent is responsible to the school committee in all areas of education. The Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, and the Director of Students are responsible for all aspects of learning from the general education students to the students with disabilities. They work together with the principals to create the staffing plans for the school year. When a budget shortfall is eminent the principals are given their final budget numbers. Every principal knows their school’s needs and should be acknowledged that they are the best person to determine what they must keep and what can be cut to meet the budget. When I was the Principal of the Glover School, we did shortfall plannings. I used my teacher leaders, who were representatives of each grade, to address budget shortfalls. We discussed the critical learning events and what the impact of losing staff or funding would have on them. Based on a lot of very difficult planning we would present to the superintendent our proposed plans to make up the shortfall.
At the Superintendent’s Administration meeting we shared our planning with the other principals. We began the arduous task of weighing each principal’s needs against our own and negotiated with each other until we had consensus of the final budget plan. To attempt to second guess all that planning without being privy to all the planning would be disingenuous to the administration.”
“We can and must revisit the list of ill-advised cuts put forth in the event of the defeat of the tax override measure. The listed cuts target the areas that are most important to teachers, students, and families rather than reviewing the budget with an eye toward finding saving opportunities that don’t impact student facing staff. This includes administrative professional services (for example, the Superintendent’s communications consultant contract), administrative personnel, non-academic support services, and non-academic professional development. If we adopt a zero-based budget philosophy, in which each line item is examined thoughtfully rather than just rolled over into the following year's budget, I am confident we can find appropriate cuts if necessary.”
Responded to Marblehead Beacon’s request but declined to participate.
Editor’s note: Jennifer Schaeffner is a founder and editor for Marblehead Beacon but has taken a leave of absence from any role with Marblehead Beacon during her campaign for School Committee.