AMESBURY — Funding a new literacy program and a middle school adjustment counselor remain a priority for the School Committee as it began to consider adopting a “one-twelfth” budget Monday night.
The committee approved a $35.4 million operating budget for the coming school year in early April.
The budget represented an 8.1% increase over last year’s $32.6 million included the addition of a part-time English language learner teacher at the middle school; new kindergarten and prekindergarten teachers and paraprofessionals; as well as establishing a prekindergarten/first grade learning center for students with low cognitive abilities.
The committee’s budget also included the addition of a $100,000 comprehensive elementary school literacy program ($60,000 of which is expected to come from the state) and the addition of a school adjustment counselor at the middle school, which would cost $80,000.
Mayor Kassandra Gove, chairwoman of the School Committee, said she expects to see major shortfalls in state and city funding and is moving forth with a “one-twelfth” city operating budget for potentially the next three months.
Committee member Mel Webster said he believes the proposed literacy program should remain a funding priority. Peter Hoyt agreed.
“Personally, I think that is the only one that I find defensible at this point in time,” Hoyt said.
Webster pointed to projections that state revenue may be down between 10% and 20%.
“We will be lucky if we get level (state education) funding this year,” Webster said. “So we need to find things to cut if we are going to add these new programs. The only things to cut are people. People are 80-plus percent of the budget.”
Superintendent Jared Fulgoni also pointed out that the district would most likely see additional costs for personal protective equipment as well as smaller class sizes and potential new bus schedules for students who will only be allowed one child to a seat in light of the current pandemic.
“There is a whole slew of additional costs,” Fulgoni said. “Not only are we looking at a revenue deficit but there will be these additional costs which are just going to become part and parcel of opening the schools.”
Maryann Welch said Monday that she believes adding the middle school school adjustment counselor is a priority.
Gove signaled her intent to preserve as many positions as possible but added that there are more questions than answers at the moment.
“This budget is going to look very different,” Gove said. “We may have to say to Jared that, ‘We need to prioritize the literacy program and you’re going to have to fit that in, whether it is with alternate funding or moving other things around.’ If that is what we want to set as a priority, then we are going to have to put some of that responsibility on Jared to make that work.”
The school district’s director of business and operations, Joan Liporto, presented a proposed “one-twelfth” operating budget based on the School Committee’s recommendation Monday. It would require $1.1 million for July, $1.9 million for August and $2.7 million for September.
Jana deBeer told the committee she would prefer to wait until its next meeting June 1 to recommend a “one-twelfth” budget figure.
“As we know, anything can change within the next two weeks,” deBeer said. “Funding could be announced or not announced. There is so much that I can change that I think that waiting would be better than voting tonight.”
The committee agreed with deBeer and unanimously voted to continue budget talks June 1.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.