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Local News

June 4, 2014

Mayor, School Committee seek modest budget hike

PEABODY — Costs for the new regional technical school, pay raises for teachers and higher tuitions for special education eat up the lion’s share of increased spending proposed for next year’s school budget.

Local officials say that requires some cuts to make it work.

The proposed school budget is up $4.7 million over this year, but about $3.5 million is just to pay Peabody’s assessment for Essex Technical High School in Danvers — a new line item in the budget.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt said he hopes that figure can be reduced before the school opens in September, as some factors, such as health insurance and administrative roles, are still under discussion. Three of Peabody’s existing vocational programs, along with those students and teachers, are moving over to the new school.

Even so, the mayor said, “the operational costs were much higher than anticipated, and that carried over into our school budget discussions.” Along with the prospect of debt for the new middle school, that led Bettencourt to rein in spending elsewhere.

He again asked all department heads to submit level-funded budgets. In the past two years, he’s allowed spending increases only for education and public safety.

Superintendent Joe Mastrocola, however, sought 5 percent more in school spending last month to cover pay raises plus “enhancements,” such as a district math director and math coaches, that he said are important to long-term improvements in the schools.

Bettencourt agreed on a smaller increase, which meant more than $3 million has to be carved from the existing school budget to make room for the raises and other priorities, which also include reinstating a human resources director, adding an English Language Learners teacher and continuing a before-school physical education program for young students.

“We’ve had a pretty good couple of years ... where we’ve been able to add some things,” said School Committee member Brandi Carpenter. She was “disappointed” about not getting everything requested but said it’s better than in some previous years when teachers were laid off.

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