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July 2, 2013

Pressure building over school mandates

AMESBURY — In the face of mounting school costs brought on by unfunded state and federal mandates, municipal officials from across the state are pressuring state legislators to take a closer look at the mandates and find ways to make them less burdensome.

Last week, 85 members of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, including Amesbury Superintendent Michele Robinson and Assistant Superintendent Deirdre Farrell, appeared at the Statehouse to support new legislation that would create a task force dedicated to studying the state’s mandates and searching for better alternatives.

This issue of unfunded mandates has become a hotly charged topic in Amesbury, particularly after the School Committee was forced to approve a budget that fell nearly $1 million short of the committee’s expectations. Officials have railed against the mandates and argued that they’ve taken away money that otherwise could have been used to fund more teacher positions and reduce class sizes.

Farrell said her experience at the Statehouse was extremely encouraging, and it was clear that state lawmakers are taking the issue seriously.

“Absolutely, no question about it,” Farrell said. “I’ve been a member of MASS for over 10 years, and this was an impressive group of individuals that was testifying, and the senators at the hearing thanked everyone for being there.”

The testimony at the Statehouse came a day after Rep. Mike Costello, D-Newburyport, and Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, sat down with members of the Amesbury City Council, who shared their concerns about the city’s recently passed school budget and asked how the mandates could be addressed.

“One of the major concerns was the mandates, and whether they’re funded or unfunded, how Amesbury is affected by them and what might be unique to Amesbury in this specific situation,” Costello said. “The mandates cover everyone, and most of them are federal, so it’s like digging through weeds, figuring out which ones are which.”

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