School nurses and library-media specialists were spared, and the cheapest all-day kindergarten option was included, but two new teachers and two new paraprofessionals were cut in the $37 million budget approved by the School Committee during a crowded meeting Tuesday. The wrangling within the budget isn’t over, however – the Town Council will get that $37 million budget request, but how the money is spent within that budget remains in play until the Financial Town Meeting in June.
The budget represents a 3.44 percent budget increase over the current year budget – and more than a percent higher than the school district has requested in recent years. By state law, the School Committee is allowed to ask for as much as 4 percent more in its budget and the Town Council can only raise the tax levy by 4 percent. It’s uncertain how a 3.44 percent increase will play into the council’s own budget.
The all-day kindergarten proposal that was included in the budget is the so-called “equity model,” which allows for one new classroom of all-day kindergarten to be established at Frenchtown Elementary, to match the classroom that already exists at Meadowbrook Farms. The cost for that model is $144,000, but $15,000 – not reflected in the budget – will be offset by a state grant for kindergarten startup programs, according to information Supt. Victor Mercurio received in recent days.
At maximum capacity, the two all-day K classrooms could serve 40 children, although, as Meadowbrook Principal Neil Marcaccio made clear Tuesday, the number of students in the MFS class varies with the level of need of those students. Last year, the MFS all-day K classroom had 21 students; this year, that number is only 14.
That lack of consistency was irksome to School Committee Vice Chair Deidre Gifford.
“I would be a little bit uncomfortable saying we were going to expand without some idea of how many children we would serve,” she said. “It seems we need a little bit more certainty … a little bit more direction about what this program can accomplish.”
Marcaccio and Frenchtown Principal Cheryl Vaughn said there needed to be some flexibility in the number, to deal with children who move into the district after the school year has begun and for those years when the students in the class might need more personal attention.
Diane Daigle, a vocal all-day kindergarten supporter, said after the meeting that she was disappointed with the lack of a full-inclusion model.
“I think it’s a tough budget year so I think I can understand the decision that was made,” said Daigle. “Obviously, it’s disappointing because it puts us back yet another year from other towns who have found the money to implement it. I think part of the problem is that we did not have a strategic plan in place. If we had a strategic plan in place, I think we would have been talking about full-day K a lot sooner.”
Eldredge student Julia Hasseltine spoke in favor of library media specialists and school nurses, several of whom were in attendance Tuesday, along with about 65 others. The new budget proposal in front of the School Committee, however, had already restored both the two librarians and the two school nurses that had been cut in an earlier version. To make up for those staffing restorations, the new budget eliminated four staff increases – for one Grade 2 teacher, one special education teacher and two paraprofessionals. According to Mercurio, those new positions could be cut because the numbers would allow that, barring a late influx of students into Grade 2 or more special ed students at the elementary level.
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