Rec & Park Perspectives: Town vs. Schools
Marblehead Beacon’s first two articles about the Recreation and Park Department 2023 campaign season focused on issues surrounding our community’s beach management and options for using a $2 million bequest to enhance Marblehead’s winter recreational facilities.
Today, we turn to Marblehead’s other open spaces, particularly the fields that Rec and Park is responsible for managing in association with the school department. Each year, a Memorandum of Understanding lays out the guidelines by which Recreation and Park staff will care for the school properties, in exchange for access to these resources when school is not in session.
Specifically, as outlined in Marblehead’s annual budget document for fiscal year 2022 (the most recent year available on the town website), the Recreation & Parks department “prepares and maintains the town’s athletic fields” including “mowing, trimming, fertilizing, over-seeding, aerating, and top-dressing.” However, it goes on to note, the department is not responsible for manicuring the grounds “due to budget and manpower limitations,” meaning that “plantings and mulch are added as time, materials and funding allow.”
With the limited resources available, there have sometimes been notes of conflict between the schools and Rec & Park over the provision of services and sharing of responsibility. The school department also at times has contemplated the desirability of hiring its own dedicated grounds maintenance staff.
In light of these issues, Marblehead Beacon asked the six candidates for five open one-year spots on the Recreation and Parks Commission the following:
What role do you believe Rec & Park should have in association with the School Department in terms of maintaining the grounds and fields around the public schools? What are the management and financial issues that have impacted this relationship and how would you advocate for change going forward?
Karin Ernst, Rossana Ferrante, Matthew Martin
All three of these candidates responded to Marblehead Beacon’s original request but declined to participate.
“Rec and Park have a lot of knowledge so I am a firm believer that information and resources should be shared to raise the bar in our stewardship of the grounds and fields at our public schools. Chip Osborne, a past chairman of the Committee, is an expert on organic turf and his and others with the same deep understanding of land management, that expertise should be shared with the School Department and others who care for land. Certain groups/departments may be territorial about their responsibilities, and I think the solution is to broaden the discussion and have quarterly meetings between the various stakeholders of our public lands so groups like Marblehead Conservancy, the Conservation Commission, Rec and Park and the School Department meet to work on solutions cooperatively.”
“The Parks Department, per the job description on page 130 of the 2022 annual budget, is responsible for ‘mowing, trimming, fertilizing, over-seeding, aerating, top dressing all athletic fields for High School Sports, grooming the turf at Piper, and maintaining the irrigation systems.’ Extras such as trimming and mulching are not included due to budgetary constraints. The 2023 P&R budget was $837,000 of which $671,000 or 79.8% is allotted for full-time employees. So when they say there isn’t any money or manpower for the extras, there isn’t. It is understood that in exchange for this responsibility, that the schools can be used for recreational programming free of charge when available.
On December 6th 2022 current Chair, Derek Norcross and Assistant Superintendent, Jamie Bloch met with Sarah Fox and Dr. Bucky to articulate this Memo of Understanding. I was extremely disappointed to learn that on January 19th, 2023 the School Department returned the MoU as approved with the removal of usage of free indoor space for programming. It is unacceptable that the School Department should deny usage of their public buildings, which are obviously paid for by taxpayers, for any public purposes as long as the school day is not disrupted. This ‘misunderstanding’ has since been rectified and the current MoU is that P&R will maintain school land as described above and the schools will allow space for public programming free of charge as it should be.
I would like to determine what it would take to have our school grounds and highly used public areas be something that our residents can be proud of with edging and mulching.
Ideally mulch needs to be spread in late May or early June and I think it could be done by (4) four temporary workers over two weeks with a $20,000 budget. This would be ideal for college students returning to town in late May. Four temporary workers for two-week period would cost $9600.00 ($30 per hour for 320 hours of work). According to massmulch.com, a yard of mulch is $59 and so the remaining budget would allow for 176 yards of mulch. I don’t know if 176 yards of mulch is enough but it is certainly a good start. There are 8700 households in Marblehead. I can’t source how many facility permits are sold but I think it is safe to say that at least 50% of households have a facilities permit. Raising that fee by $5 annually will fund the extra beautifications needed for spring cleanup and mulching so that our town is in tip-top shape for our summertime tourist season. Another option would be to use funds from the increase of non-resident beach passes laid out in question 1.
Another option would be to barter a reduction of real estate or excise taxes for mulch and labor for some of our very talented landscapers in town.”
Linda Rice Collins
“We have been working with the Superintendent of Schools and the school committee creating an MOU between the Schools and Recreation and Park. This MOU should be complete within the next few weeks. It clearly states the responsibilities of each party.
We are being asked to provide 2023 services on 2002 money. Prices and salaries have gone up yet our budget does not match this. We are constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul. Chip Osborne worked with Superintendent Peter James to create pesticide free grass at all our parks, playgrounds and athletic fields. Some are in great shape like Seaside; some need capital improvements like the lower field at the Village School which was not constructed properly. We do not have the funds for capital improvements. There are two ways to generate the funds necessary for these capital improvements: the Recreation and Park Department could receive more money from the Town or the Recreation and Park Department institutes a user fee. A Field Donation account for sports playing fields only would be set up:
It will not go into the General Fund
It will not be used on Passive Parks
It will not be used for non-athletic school grounds”