With the Everett School Committee ready to discuss and possibly vote on the upcoming budget that will total more than $108 million at its meeting on April 25, the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) will certainly be a major topic of discussion.
At the meeting on April 11, School Committee members heard from Assistant Superintendent Charles Obremski about the many projects that are being planned for the budgets covering Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 through FY2027.
With overcrowding occurring in almost every school in the city, Obremski was seeking to earmark more than $2M for modular classrooms at the Keverian School. Currently, the Keverian, which was built to hold 650 students, already is more than 300 students over its capacity.
Committeeman Michael McLaughlin seemed to echo his colleagues regarding the CIP presentation by Obremski.
“This is a great plan,’ he said. “However, there is an immediate need for handicapped accessibility at the Parlin Junior High School.”
Obremski had earmarked between $2M-$3.5M to make Parlin handicapped-accessible in the FY25 budget. However, the unofficial consensus among the committee was to move this Parlin project up on the time list and to be accomplished this year.
The FY23 CIP of more than $6.7M includes many regularly-scheduled maintenance projects through the district, such as repairing the leaking roof over the gymnasium at Everett High School, updating the phone system, repairing the Webster School roof, replacing the gym floor at the Whittier School, and repairing the kitchen area appliances at the Lafayette School.
Obremski noted that all of these maintenance projects are sorely needed and that many of the items on the list, such as the gym floor at the Whittier School (which is 44 years old), already have exceeded their projected useful life.
Although the FY23 CIP will see the largest expenditures of CIP monies, in FY24 the request will be for more than $2.6M; in FY25, the figure will be more than $5M; in FY26, more than $2.2M; and in FY27, more than $700,000.
Another area in which School Committee members expressed concern was whether there is a plan to maintain student learning after the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds come to an end in the near future.
Like many communities, some Everett students find themselves behind academically because of the pandemic. Presently, school officials have availed themselves of the ESSER funds that pay for more teachers to help students who are academically behind.
In this school year, the Everett Public Schools will receive more than $10M to fund the extra teachers that focus on having students catch up on the learning loss.
“ESSER will end and these services will have to be subtracted, or we will have to subtract another service,” said Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahliani.
“Tough budget cuts are ahead,” Tahiliani added. “We need to advocate for the students. We need to lobby the City Council.”
“We should not look to cut, but advocate for more money,” said committee member Marcony Barros, referring to when the School Department appears before the City Council at budget time.
Committee member Samatha Lambert reminded her colleagues, “Students are not impacted equally. There are many disparities.”
“We need to create better opportunities,” committee member Michael Mangan added. “There is so much new tax revenue from developments that will increase our school population.”
In other matters, the committee voted against giving Malden Transportation (MT) a five percent fuel surcharge that the company had requested. It was pointed out the present contract does not provide for a fuel surcharge, and so the committee would have to reword the present contract in order to accommodate this extra expense.
McLaughlin noted that Malden Transportation are “good partners,” but Barrios pointed out that the city paid the company when COVID hit, even though there was no service being provided.
“MT does a great job,” said Barrios, but suggested that inasmuch as “the higher prices are affecting their profit, we should not agree.”
Lambert wanted more figures and urged her colleagues to wait until the information is provided. The motion then failed by a vote of 6-3.