Methuen Methuen School Committee Increases Budget a Whopping 13%

By: D.J. Deeb – May, 2018

Members of the Methuen School Committee voted to request that the mayor and School Committee approve a budget of $82.5 million, a 13% increase over last year’s budget of $72 million. This comes after years of not filling positions through attrition as enrollment numbers continue to climb and Special Education mandated costs continue to soar.

Even though I understand the need for many of the provisions that this budget addresses, I could not bring myself to vote in favor of such an increase. I am sure that most Methuen residents have not seen a 13% increase in their pay checks. I feel that it is too much to ask for from the taxpayers who continue to see their property taxes rise. In addition, for the past 3 years I have been critical of overspending by other Municipal Departments. Last month I detailed some of the wasteful spending that the city has engaged in last year and recommended cuts to city spending.

Last year, in FY 2018, the School Department was the only major department in the city to reduce its operating budget. It cut its operating expenses by 2 percent. It should be noted that 81% of school districts in the Commonwealth spend above state-mandated Foundation levels for their school systems. Historically, the City of Methuen has spent at or below Foundation levels, but if the mayor and City Council approve this budget request it will raise Methuen school spending to above Foundation levels.

Members of the Methuen School Committee commissioned Superintendent Judy Scannell and her leadership team months ago to prepare a budget that meets the needs of all of the students in Methuen Public Schools. Supt. Scannell and her team did a fabulous job preparing such a budget and presenting statistics and supporting information to substantiate their requests. Supt. Scannell and her team did their job well. It is now up to city officials to balance competing interests and to put the brakes on spending. It should be noted that although the proposed approved budget contains increases in Maintenance and Repair for the upkeep of buildings and grounds, new staffing positions, and mental health counselors, it does not create or allow for any new administrative positions.

In considering the Methuen Schools Budget, the following facts taken from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding Methuen Schools should be noted:

* Bottom 15% of districts for total per pupil expenditure
* Bottom 9% of districts for per pupil expenditure for administration
* Bottom 38% of districts for per pupil expenditure for guidance and school psychologists
* Bottom 34% of districts for per pupil expenditure for classroom teachers and specialist teachers
* Bottom 5% for per pupil expenditure for instructional materials, equipment, and technology
* Bottom 20% for per pupil expenditure for operations and maintenance
* Bottom 23% for per pupil expenditure for other teaching services

All things considered, the teachers and support staff are doing an excellent job educating and providing quality services to the students of Methuen Public Schools without user fees and bus fees. Not many surrounding districts can brag about the latter. I would have supported an increase in the budget, but 13% was just too high. It is now up to the mayor and the city council to consider the School Committee’s requested budget. It will likely be cut given this requested increase.

On another note, congratulations to Marsh Grammar School 4th grade teacher Tanya Witkum for being selected for the Teacher of the Year Award by the Rotary Club of Methuen. Kudos also to the other Teacher of the Year Award nominees: Jayson Romalho (CGS Physical Education Teacher), Marian Magnan (Tenney 6th Grade Teacher), Kathy Stacy (Timony 6th Grade Teacher) and Laura Enright (MHS Foreign Language Teacher).

At our April 9th School Committee Business Meeting, Phil Leahy , President of the Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project (MVPASAP), addressed members about an upcoming talk being given by Dr. Ruth Potee on “The Adolescent Brain & The Physiology of Addiction” at Greater Lawrence Technical High School on Thursday, May 17th from 6:30-8:00PM. Parents and other interested members of the community are invited to attend. Finally, Phil Leahy stressed that prevention, education, and awareness are the solution to the substance abuse crisis, not treatment. I could not agree more and we must all do a better job at getting information out to the public.

D.J. Deeb is a Methuen resident and Secretary of the Methuen School Committee. Deeb is an Adjunct Professor of History/Government at Bunker Hill Community College and an Adjunct Political Science Instructor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Deeb also serves as Social Studies Department Chair at Notre Dame High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He is the author of Israel, Palestine, and the Quest for Middle East Peace (University Press, 2013) and The Collapse of Middle East Peace (IUniverse, 2003).