By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY – The School Committee this week endorsed a pared-down budget that allows for priority improvements only for the upcoming year.
The approved $28.3 million budget represents a $1.87 million increase over this year — of which about $1.5 million is needed to maintain the current level of services, including keeping up with contractually obligated salary increases and the rising cost of special education.
The approved budget will now go to Mayor Thatcher Kezer, who will send it as well as the spending plans for other city departments to the City Council for final approval in June.
The School Committee had proposed $865,000 worth of improvements designed to drive down class sizes, strengthen special education across the district and provide additional support to teachers and students. But Superintendent Michele Robinson wound up paring those requests down to $300,000.
“Those prioritized requests were created because we asked the administrators what they needed for the school year,” Robinson said. “We then took that list, worked with it to get down to the absolute most critical pieces that our team felt were needed for the next school year.”
Amesbury Elementary School is seeking $63,200 for a new third-grade teacher, along with additional music and art time, at a cost of $63,200. Robinson said the school badly needs the teacher to help keep class sizes from ballooning to 28 to 29 students per class next year.
Cashman Elementary School is requesting $53,000 for a self-contained special education class. While it was not originally one of the prioritized requests, Robinson said Cashman officials changed course after they re-evaluated their situation.
The middle school is seeking $37,000 for a new English Language Learners secondary teacher, who would help meet the needs of a growing population of students who consider English a second language while also meeting new federal and state ELL mandates.
The high school is seeking $57,000 for a new special education classroom meet the needs of students who would otherwise require out-of-district placement, which Robinson said can be very expensive. The superintendent said keeping those students in district could save the city tens of thousands of dollars.
For students who are out of district, the schools are hoping to fund a full-time, out-of-district placement facilitator for $85,000. Former Amesbury High School principal Les Murray is currently working part-time in that capacity, though Robinson said someone else will be brought in if the job is made full-time.
The School Committee added another $83,000 worth of increases of its own before approving the budget, Robinson said. Those increases include a full-time, in-school suspension paraprofessional at the middle school ($28,000), a full-time band teacher to replace the part-time one leaving this year ($45,000) and funds to develop a strategic plan ($10,000).