DANVERS — The town could vote to cap the number of Danvers students who attend Essex Tech each year during Annual Town Meeting on Monday.
Town Meeting members will gather inside Danvers High School at 60 Cabot Road at 7:30 p.m. to decide the fate of 46 articles, including Article 5, a drafted home rule petition that would limit the number of incoming freshmen from Danvers at Essex Tech to 40 per year.
If adopted, the cap would go into effect for the 2023-2024 school year.
“What we’ve been trying to do for about two years now is bring the conversation forward so that Town Meeting could understand what an open-ended commitment to that school looks like…” said Danvers Town Manager Steve Bartha. “We’ve tried to make very clear that we are a community with limited resources.”
The town is billed $16,700 per student living in Danvers who attends Essex Tech, Bartha said. This amount is about $7,500 more per student than the town would pay to educate them in Danvers Public Schools.
The town’s Essex Tech assessment has gone up from $2.51 million to $3.87 million over the last four years — a 54.18% increase, according to the Town Meeting warrant.
Danvers officials have tried to work out a more affordable solution to enrollment with Essex Tech five times since February 2020, according to the warrant. None have been successful.
“It became a very acute issue budgetarily three years ago when the admissions decisions by the school resulted in a $670,000 increase to the town’s assessment, which it learned about in the mid-budget process going into COVID,” Bartha said.
“And at that time, the town reached out to the school and tried to start a conversation with them… but they wouldn’t even really engage in the conversation,” he continued.
Danvers’ 28,000 residents make up 9.22% of Essex Tech’s district, which includes 17 communities, according to the 2020 federal census. Yet 17.65% of students at the school are from Danvers.
Capping the number of incoming freshmen would allow the number of Danvers students to stabilize at 160 over the next four years, about 12% of the school’s overall population.
“(Article 5) would put some guardrails in place in terms of what the town’s commitment to Essex Tech would be on a moving-forward basis,” Bartha said.
Essex Tech Superintendent Heidi Riccio wrote in an April 25 letter to Town Meeting members that she “wholeheartedly opposed” Article 5.
“This petition… arbitrarily and unreasonably denies access to a vocational education for prospective Danvers students, making an already competitive and highly selective admissions process unfair for those students solely based on the community in which they reside,” Riccio wrote. “Article 5 deprives Danvers parents and young residents of their educational choices and all the benefits that Essex North Shore can offer.”
Article 5 would interfere with the school’s broad authority to create and dictate its own admission policies, Riccio wrote. She added that capping enrollment at Essex Tech may only cause Danvers students who were rejected from the school to attend other vocational schools in the region, requiring the town to still pay for their outside education.
“Although we recognize that the town’s desire to increase student enrollment and invest more resources in its public high school for the benefit of those students is commendable, however, that cannot and should not circumvent the Essex North Shore’s admissions decisions nor should it come at the expense of students who seek a career technical and agricultural education,” Riccio wrote.
Riccio also wrote that the town’s stated costs for educating students in Danvers Public Schools is misleading. She argued that a report from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education showed that Danvers spent, in total, about $17,000 or $18,000 per pupil in 2021, which is higher than what the town paid to send students to Essex Tech.
Town Meeting will also decide article 38, a proposed citizens’ petition that would allow Danvers officials in town-wide elected positions, and who have more than six months left in their term, to be removed from office through a recall election.
Under Article 38, residents would have to file a recall petition with 350 signatures or more in order for the town to hold a recall election, which would take place within 64 to 90 days of the petition being certified, according to the warrant. The Select Board voted 4-1 in April to advance the article with an unfavorable opinion. Bartha said this wasn’t because the board disapproved of the article’s idea, but rather because they thought the process behind it was a rushed response to the last two turbulent years in Danvers.
“I can’t speak for the Select Board, but some of the comments were that… pushing something like this through in reaction to something like that felt like a very different process than putting the question on the table and thinking it through and making sure it would coexist well with all of the other governing documents that are in town,” Bartha said.
Members will determine the town’s budget for the 2023 fiscal year, vote to appropriate chapter 90 funds to maintain streets and decide to re-approve the town’s revolving fund accounts to run its non-tax programs.
Article 24 proposes that $440,240 be used for building improvements in schools, fire stations, Endicott Park, the Peabody Institute Library and other town-owned buildings. Similarly, Article 25 would set aside $219,000 for grounds improvements to town parks and properties. If approved, article 28 would allow the town to spend $150,000 earmarked for a town-wide strategic plan. The plan would help Danvers determine its priorities for the next decade, particularly in addressing the needs of its residents, according to the warrant.
Several articles addressing improvements to town wastewater facilities and repairs to local dams will also be voted on.
Contact Caroline Enos at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.