DANVERS — Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School will lay off seven people and institute a three-day furlough for faculty, staff and administrators to deal with budget problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The layoffs include two teachers and three paraprofessionals as well as two custodians who accepted voluntary layoffs, according to Superintendent Heidi Riccio.

Riccio, who is in her second year as superintendent, said the reductions were made in anticipation of cuts to state funding due to the pandemic.

"We all kind of got whammied with COVID-19," she said, referring to school districts across the state. "It has been a significant learning experience for myself and my team in terms of really looking at the budget and making informed decisions."

Essex Tech is a regional school that relies on state aid as well as assessments on 17 communities that send students to the school. The school opened in 2014 and has been overwhelmed by applications from students seeking a vocational, technical or agricultural education. This year there are nearly 1,400 applicants for 440 open spots at the school. 

The Essex Tech School Committee originally approved a budget of $31 million in March, before the pandemic, but that has since been cut by $1 million due to anticipated reductions in state aid. The new $30 million budget is a 1.4% increase over the current year's budget.

The budget, which includes how much each member community must pay, needs the approval of at least two-thirds of those communities to officially pass, Riccio said.

"We believe we are presenting a budget that is appropriate, that is reflective and empathetic to our sending communities, but also insures that our students are going to receive an excellent technical and agricultural education," Riccio said.

Riccio said the three-day furloughs will be taken during the school year on days when teachers would normally have professional development days. Staff and administrators will also be furloughed.

In a statement, Hathorne Federation of Teachers President Deborah O'Reilly said the union agreed to the furlough days based on the need to reduce the budget due to the pandemic.

"These days will result in a small reduction in pay, but allow the administration to minimize the need to cut staff positions," O'Reilly said.

Riccio noted that Essex Tech is the most cost-efficient vocational school in the state, spending $18,657 per pupil.

"That's pretty incredible knowing that we have a farm, an entire farm crew and the animals," she said. "I don't think there's any high school that has the campus we have."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or pleighton@salemnews.com.


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