School Committee Finalizes Budget: French Survives, Curriculum Hire Planned for ’18

by | Jul 24, 2017

June 21, 2017 – The School Committee voted 7-0 Tuesday (6/20/17) night to approve a revised budget of $37.7 million for fiscal year 2018 that keeps French at both Cole Middle School and EGHS and restored the nurse position that had been cut. The budget also committed to hiring a curriculum director (director of teaching and learning in EGSD verbiage) in January 2018.

The vote came three and a half hours after the meeting began and with close to 100 people still in the audience. Several students, a couple of former students, parents and one teacher spoke during public comment on the budget about the need to keep French. A couple of people spoke in favor of a curriculum director – as did some School Committee members – and one person spoke of the importance of paraprofessionals. The revised budget restored one paraprofessional – to help in kindergarten – as was one library media specialist.

There was no cheering after the vote, however, perhaps because several positions remained cut, including five paraprofessionals, one special ed teacher, and chorus. Two high school positions went from full to half time: the senior project coordinator and the library media specialist.

“Every single position that was not restored tonight is a person who provides services to our students. This is a very difficult position that we are in with the amount of funding that we have received and I would just hope that, moving forward, the level of advocacy that we saw here not just tonight but throughout the entire school budgeting process continues so that we can ensure that the level of funding that we receive as a school district is adequate to truly meet the needs of our students,” Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark said. ”Some people are going to be very happy when they leave here tonight. I just wanted to pause and reflect that not everything is getting restored. These are people that provided real services and it’s a travesty.”

Mark was referring to the decrease in school funding from the town this year. The Town Council approved a budget June 8 that level-funded the school district but also saved the district money by agreeing to pay non-educational spending. That includes staff salaries in the areas of finance, IT, personnel and purchasing, which consultant-and-now-Acting-Town-Manager Gayle Corrigan recommended consolidating with the town. (Corrigan was named acting town manager on Monday.) In addition, the town will no longer bill the school district for groundskeeping and trash collection and Mark said Corrigan and Town Council President Sue Cienki also just agreed to cover the school district’s sewer bill. The sewer savings – $45,000 – would be used to help cover the cost of a curriculum director for the second half of the year.

The curriculum director position has long been on the School Committee’s wishlist, although it was not included in the budget it passed in April. Hiring a curriculum director was a specific recommendation by Corrigan and her colleague Linda Dykeman, in the presentation of their findings and recommendations to the Town Council June 5 and they said taking costs off the school district’s books would allow for that hire. (Dykeman was subsequently hired, along with Christine Spagnoli, to manager finances for the school district while a permanent director of administration is sought.)

“We had already cut so many things to balance our budget within a 4 percent ask, there was a reluctance to take more resources out of the classroom. It’s still a concern,” said Mark Wednesday (6/21) about not including a curriculum director in the April budget.

What’s changed? Mark noted two things.

“The passionate and persuasive testimony of our EG SEAC leaders and my colleagues on the school committee, who clearly prioritized the position over other positions that were on the chopping block … and the fact that we were able to identify additional resources” were the reasons, she said. The additional resources are the potential takeover by the town of a $45,000 sewer bill and another $25,000 the committee learned they could take from surplus. (SEAC stands for Special Education Advisory Committee, a panel that has been urging the School Committee to hire a curriculum director.)

Although hiring a curriculum director will not happen until January, School Committee member Jeff Dronzek said he was happy it was included in the revised budget.

“Instead of saying, ‘We’d like to do this,’ it was part of a motion we approved. It’s a commitment,” Dronzek said Wednesday. “We put in there that we are committed to that position January 1. We are making sure we have enough funds to do it mid-year.”

That said, he admitted they were going to have to figure out where that money was going to come from going forward.

The revised budget relies on taking around $400,000 out of the district’s fund balance. About half of that will be used to refresh all Chromebook student computer tablets at the high school, an expense that only comes up every few years. But the rest will be used to meet basic budget expenses.

Dronzek said one potential revenue growth area was advertising on sports fields, noting that when he’s gone to other middle school softball fields around the state (he has a daughter in middle school), he sees advertising on the field.

“It’s not major money but it could support part of the athletic budget,” he said.

The School Committee meets next on Tuesday, July 11, in the library at Cole Middle School. The EGSD serves around 2,500 students.

You can find video of the entire meeting – in seven installments – on the district’s youtube channel here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atJABaGwyOY.

– Elizabeth McNamara

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