If they decide they can, school officials agree they need to commit to the position, even if the town level funds the schools.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

School Committee members Jeff Dronzek (left) and Matt Plain (center) both advocated pressing the Town Council to address additional funding for special education, which could help pay for a curriculum director.

When the School Committee approved a final budget last June, they voted to approve hiring a director of teaching and learning (in old parlance, a curriculum director) in January, halfway through the year to make the addition a little easier to bear budget-wise. But the vote was contingent on the town taking over the district’s $45,000 sewer bill, which in theory anyway would line up with the town’s stated “One Town” policy.

With January a mere number of weeks away, some on the School Committee are pushing to fill that position, even though the town said no to paying the district’s sewer bill.

The Town Council level-funded the schools this year, but their One Town consolidation plan saved the district $530,000. The district, however, had requested an additional $1.3 million so the council’s decision to level fund the schools ultimately cut the district’s budget request by $770,000. [Ed. Note: figures in this paragraph had been incorrect in an earlier version.]

Hiring a director of teaching and learning would cost upwards of $100,000 for a year, half that if the new director started in January.

“I think we should figure out a way to get those on board [curriculum director and HS librarian] and if we don’t get paid what we’re owed, that’s not on us,” argued Councilman Jeff Dronzek, head of the committee’s finance subcommittee.

Dronzek was referring to the state’s failure as of now to pay all that it had promised in state aid because of the delay in passing the state budget, as well as the town’s promise to help with unexpected and unbudgeted special education costs. The district has already seen such an expense, with a bump in preschool enrollment for children with special needs. The district hired the extra teacher in August. The town has not, as yet, agreed to give the schools anything extra for special unexpected education expenses such as the preschool hire.

“We’ve got to get this in our budget or we’re never going to get these positions,” Dronzek said. “If we wait until we get all the fund balance info, we’re not going to get these positions in this year.”

Matt Plain suggested that School Committee members press the Town Council directly to get an item about supplemental appropriations on the council’s agenda through “a letter for all of us, a letter from each of us, repeated letters and emails from each of us. Letting the public know we’re requesting that…. Something to ensure that it’s getting at least an opportunity to be discussed and voted on by the Town Council.”

He added, “We need the money.”

Chairwoman Carolyn Mark did not disagree with her colleagues but she said the committee would need to be ready to cut other things if the district was level funded in fiscal year 2019.

“What’s going to go so that we can keep that position?” she said.

“We couldn’t look to hire someone for five months and five months only,” said Councilwoman Lori McEwen. I think we would have to take a vote, we would have to commit that that is a line that stays in – a position in the org chart that is very clear.”

McEwen added that hiring someone to fill the director of teaching and learning position would not, in and of itself, solve the district’s curriculum-related issues.

“Hiring a director of teaching and learning will not categorically change the district,” she said. “There will be major changes for the good but … that role alone, that person will not be coming in with a cape.”

Chairwoman Mark asked Supt. Mercurio to try to meet with Town Manager Gayle Corrigan to learn exactly what the town considers is a special education “demonstrated need” before the committee’s next meeting Dec. 5. In addition, Mercurio said he would write a draft job description so the district would be ready to go with a search.