BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — It was a public hearing with only a few members of the public speaking and no school officials responding.
That combination led to one of the shortest school budget hearings in recent memory last night at the high school.
Only about 30 people, most of them school and city officials, attended the hearing, and only seven members of the public stepped up to the microphone to make comments.
With School Committee President Maria Decker limiting the comments to three minutes and announcing that committee members would not respond during the meeting, the hearing was over in 30 minutes.
After the meeting, Decker said it is “standard protocol” for the School Committee not to respond during a public hearing.
“It’s the opportunity for the public to express their thoughts,” she said. “It’s not to engage in a conversation or a debate about it. Everything that was said, we all took notes on and will take into consideration.”
Decker said one of the reasons so few people spoke is because the schools are in good shape and there is extra money in the budget this year to hire teachers and boost programs.
“That’s part of why it was a quieter public hearing than in many years,” she said. “Great things are going on and the budget looks good dollar-wise.”
The proposed budget calls for $48 million in spending, a 2.58 percent increase over this year. Counting state aid, grants and other funds, the full cost of education in the district is nearly $54 million, Superintendent Marie Galinski said.
Galinski said the budget is being helped by increases in state funding and school choice revenue and savings from health insurance costs and the retirement of 13 teachers, who will be replaced by newer teachers who make less money.
The budget includes money to hire four new teachers at the elementary school level and a physics teacher and physical education teacher at the high school.
The high school will also add a part-time nurse to help administer medication. “We’re experiencing many students with medical issues,” Galinski said.
The district’s preschool classes, which have been held in the various elementary schools, will all be moved to the Memorial Building next fall, freeing up space to allow each school to host full-day kindergarten classes.
Galinski said administrators are keeping an eye on potentially large class sizes for fourth-grade classes at Ayers and Centerville and fifth grade at Hannah. She said adjustments will be made, including the use of college fellows as teacher aides, if the classes move too close to the maximum of 30.
Three members of the public, all parents of Hannah School students, expressed concerns about security in the schools.
“Many parents would like to see added security in the district,” said Tara Brophy of Boyden Avenue. “In the elementary schools in particular, we seem incredibly vulnerable.”
Pickett Street resident Julie Low said school secretaries are left with the responsibility of buzzing in visitors. Although there are cameras, Low said it’s difficult to see what a visitor is carrying.
Essex Street resident Bob Pieroni said school officials should consider requiring visitors to use password-protected swipe cards to enter school buildings.
Ward 4 City Councilor Scott Houseman said the School Committee has approved money for new security keypads in all the schools. He encouraged the committee to make parents aware of the plan.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Highlights of proposed budget
Total budget — $48 million
Increase over this year — 2.58 percent
Hire four elementary teachers
Hire physics teacher and physical education teacher at high school
3 percent raises for principals and central office administrators
1.5 percent raises for union contracts