On Tuesday, November 24, the School Committee had a budget workshop with the goal of giving Superintendent, Kristan Rodriguez, direction for the FY17 school budget.
At the direction of the School Committee, the Superintendent developed a needs assessment for our school district. An assessment of this nature has never been conducted for our school. The Superintendent presented the top-line findings of her 92-page assessment. Highlights from the assessment include:
- Curriculum and Instruction
- We currently spend 70% less than the state average on instructional materials affecting our ability to purchase textbooks, curriculum and technology for teachers and students. Our 2014 level of $124 per pupil was cut from $207 in 2013. These numbers are still well below the state average, which was $409 per pupil in 2014.
- To close the budget gap, we drastically cut supply budgets. This year, our supply budget is $48,805 less than our 2010 budget.
- Professional development
- Our district spends 25% less per pupil than the state average. Research shows a significant correlation between instructional expenditures and instructional staff support services and student achievement.
- Management and Operations
- State aid levels are lower than they were in 2003. However, there have been many years where we have lowered assessments or level funded assessments when our costs continued to rise at higher rates.
- The District has never received the 100% reimbursement in transportation costs that was promised when we regionalized.
- The Superintendent broke down the staffing needs into 4 priority categories.
- Instructional Services
- Direct Services to students in non-core subject areas including social emotional needs
- Non direct student services including network technicians, custodians and maintenance
- Positions we believe are needed but require additional research and assessment to confirm whether they are truly needed
- Staffing is needed to address the gap that continues to widen between general and special education students.
- ELA scores continue to be concerning which correlates to cuts in reading support. We are seeing students who are not labeled as special education falling below grade levels.
- There are many core classes including math, English and social studies in the middle school and high school that are over 25 (and some over 30).
The descriptors above do not even come close to capturing the entirety of the Superintendent’s assessment. The Superintendent was adamant that all the needs in the assessment are essential to the health of our district. These are not “nice to have” and she would vehemently fight for everything in the assessment.
If the School Committee continues as they have in former years to request the same assessments from the towns, our contractual obligations would use virtually the entire amount. None of the needs could be addressed and we risk a widening achievement gap, continued large class sizes with less professional development and underfunded supplies.
Jeff Kubick, School Committee chair, asked the members to weigh in on whether they should direct the Superintendent to develop a budget that addressed all the needs, some of the needs, or just maintenance. The break down is as follows:
- Jeff Kubick, Stephanie Cronin, Jennifer McKenzie, and Peter Cronin were all in favor of addressing all the needs in the assessment. The general sentiment was now that they had the comprehensive assessment, they could not ignore or underfund the needs. The data trend is clear and the achievement gap is widening.
- Jon Sjoberg is comfortable with funding some of the needs in the assessment at present. He has further questions for the administration he wants answers to before he makes a final decision.
- Alison Manugian and Leslie Lathrop both agreed that the needs outlined by the Superintendent were accurate and necessary. Leslie would like to wait until FY18 once we have the plan and costs of the technology and capital plans. Alison agrees and worries that the School Committee will use all of their political capital getting the funding for the academic side, which will hurt the district’s ability to get public support and funding for the technology and capital plans. (Marlena’s take away – If your child is hungry or needs medical attention, then you feed them and provide them with what they need to heal. We should be advocating for what are children NEED and not neglect those needs because we aspire to provide them with more in the future. Not addressing the immediate needs of our children is not advocating for our children. It is neglecting our children.)
There was much debate around the idea that if the people vote for the increased funding for FY17, they would not support the funding for the technology or capital plans. They agreed that they would not take strategies off the table to secure funding for FY17, but they would adjust them based on the public feedback. This made Alison more comfortable in moving forward.
The School Committee then instructed the Superintendent to build the budget that addresses all the needs in her assessment. It is imperative that parents and community members get informed, ask questions, and support our schools.
I want to thank Gina Cronin for supplying us with the cliff notes from this meeting. We as a community need to stay involved and communicate with our SC, Fin Com & BOS members and express to them your wants, aspirations for the children of Groton & Dunstable.
It is your tax money, take the time to express to your Fin Com, BOS and SC members as to where you want your money spent. It is sometimes next to impossible to attend SC, BOS and Fin Comm meetings while juggling work, school and activities… it only takes 5 minutes to send an email to way in on these discussions.
BOS Chair: firstname.lastname@example.org
FIn Com Chair: email@example.com