SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 14, 2014

Our view: Essex Tech budget troubles a worrying sign

Commuters driving along Route 62 these past several months have no doubt noticed the new Essex Technical High School rising along the side of the road in Danvers.

Construction of the new school, which will replace North Shore Tech and Essex Aggie, as well as the vocational programs at Peabody High School, is proceeding apace, and the sprawling campus should be ready for students in the fall.

However, the budget process for the new school, which draws students — and payments — from 17 communities, has been anything but smooth. We hope it is not a harbinger of things to come.

Last month, leaders in local municipalities were shocked to learn of drastic increases in their assessments for the new district’s school budget.

Salem’s assessment, for example, was set to increase by 45 percent, or close to $1 million. In Peabody, Mayor Ted Bettencourt said the city’s $3.8 million assessment was based on 51 more students than planned to enroll. Danvers’ assessment increased from nearly $1.7 million to $2 million, Town Manager Wayne Marquis said.

“None of us can afford increases in the range of 30 to 40 percent,” Marquis said last month.

School officials and local lawmakers were quick to pin the blame on state education officials, who they said used October 2013 enrollment projections instead of more up-to-date April 2014 figures. While the state re-ran the numbers using the updated April figures, the assessments are still higher than many communities anticipated.

State Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, is working to push through legislation that would set aside roughly $704,000 in state money to help offset the increase.

The money would come from a so-called state “pothole” fund. Speliotis called the fix a “huge win for the region.”

We’re not so convinced using taxpayer money from across the state to fix a local problem constitutes a “big win.” Maybe a “sigh of relief.”

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