School District Budgets, MBTS Census, Local Mortgage & Rental Assistance


At a joint public hearing in the cafeteria of the Essex Elementary School on Tuesday, the Manchester Essex School District Committee, the Essex Board of Selectmen, Essex Finance Committee, town officials and District administrators came together to review a soon-to-be-final FY 2024 school district budget with parents and residents. 

The School Committee has been working on the district budget since November.  The current FY24 district budget stands at $30.144 million before state aid and represents a $1.218 million increase (4.21%) from last fiscal year.  Based on factors that include enrollment figures, Manchester’s apportionment of the budget is $16.77 million, up 5.43% from last year.  Essex’s apportionment of the FY24 budget would be $9.07 million, up 8.45%.  The average assessment increase between the two towns in the district is 6.53%.

The district’s goal each year is to keep budget increases within 3.5%.  Two years ago that goal became increasingly challenging (especially facing large, unavoidable capital expenditures and escalating obligations like health insurance premiums), so the School Committee and Finance Committees from both towns created a working group that has been meeting regularly to figure out how to address structural issues with the budget. 

That cooperation was on display this week.  Tapping the district’s reserve funds, a pressure point in recent years for those wanting to avoid a Proposition 2 ½ override, is now acknowledged as “penny wise, pound foolish” since the district can’t afford an expensive credit rating hit when it goes to borrow money to fund building or renovation of a new Essex Elementary School.  To add to all of this, said MERSD Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin, the district has struggled (along with the rest of the districts in Massachusetts) with inadequate funding from the state. 

Essex was able to avoid a Prop 2 ½ override last year, and each town and the School Committee determined they would work together on a strategy for this year to reset the entire budget.  Separately, the Essex Finance Committee created a mitigation fund to cushion surprising swings in its annual district assessment.

The School Committee will vote on the final budget at its February 7 meeting, after which the District’s budget will go to the Select Boards of each town to present to voters for authorization at each Annual Town Meeting.  Manchester’s Town Meeting comes first, scheduled for Monday, April 3, 2023.  Essex’s Annual Town Meeting is scheduled for a month later, on May 1.

MAHT and Action, Inc. Expand Rental and Mortgage Support Program

The Manchester Affordable Housing Trust (MAHT) and Gloucester-based Action, Inc. expanded the residential mortgage and rental relief program in 2020 to assist income-eligible Manchester residents who have been hit hard financially by COVID.  The program has been a lifesaver for many residents, and the operational team at Action, Inc. has made it easy for applicants.

Those who have been strained by job and income loss due to COVID can still apply, but the expanded program now allows for assistance with security deposits, moving costs, fleeing domestic violence, family health crisis and non-COVID job loss.  The program has been a welcome help for many renters and mortgage holders; with the program expansion, MAHT and Action, Inc. look to assist more Manchester residents. 

To date, Action, Inc. has committed $125,000 to program clients, including 23 households.  Action, Inc. also has also referred clients to other social services for public benefits and budget counseling.  MAHT and Action, Inc. thank an anonymous donor for a recent generous donation to help fund the program.   For program information and assistance, contact Action, Inc. at 978-282-1000 or at

Coming Up

Next week, the Cricket will dive into the finalization of the ME School District Budget as a preview to the February 7 meeting.  Also, on Wednesday night (after deadline for this week’s paper), the Essex Board of Selectmen and Essex Planning Board hosted a public open house with  MAPC (Metropolitan Area Planning Council) to share the status of its work for revisions to the Essex Zoning Bylaw.