It is fitting, in a way, that Town Meeting last night passed a $34.8 million School Department spending request for the year beginning July 1. This is, after all, National Teacher Appreciation Week.
And nothing says that Town Meeting participants appreciate the job educators do more than the approval of an 11.4 percent increase over the current year’s education spending on local schools.
Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Stephen Zrike discussed the School Department budget and defended the $3,558,357 increase before Town Meeting. He explained the School Department’s priorities and strategic initiatives focusing on quality teaching, rigorous curriculum and individualized student learning.
Zrike talked about how the budget increase would address those priorities by investing in full-day tuition-free kindergarten, updated K-8 math curriculum and K-1 phonics curriculum, increased staffing and technology and appropriate special education funding.
Zrike maintained that next year’s increase “right-sizes the Wakefield Schools” by reinstating resources “that had been sorely lacking.”
The only discussion from the floor came after Spaulding Street’s Robert Mitchell identified himself as a “huge supporter” of the schools and then made a motion to amend the School Department budget by cutting it by $1 million. He said that he thought that proposed $3.5 million increase was “just too big of an ask this year.”
Daniel Lieber of Elm Street opposed Mitchell’s motion, calling the school budget “aggressive but not unreasonable.”
School Committee member Christopher Callanan said, “It makes no sense to randomly pick numbers out of the air.” He noted that there had been plenty of opportunity for input into the school budget.
William Bateman of Cedar Street called Mitchell’s motion “out of line.”
After Mitchell’s amendment was defeated overwhelmingly, there was no further discussion on the main motion and the School Department budget passed by a wide margin.
Last night, Town Meeting showed educators and parents that it does care about children. This is a big investment and it will continue to be each year because we are raising the educational stakes by 11.4 percent one time but also forever. Now when school leaders come before the town asking for even a 2 or 3 percent budget increase, they will be doing so on top of the 11.4 percent hike approved Monday.
That’s what we call education appreciation.