This blog post is my personal interpretation and summary of discussions from meetings that I attend and are not official minutes. 

In attendance was Superintendent – Bill Ryan, Director of Business & Finance – Frank Antonelli, Business Manager – Michael Knight, Dunstable Advisor Chair – Christine Muir, SC Members – Alison Manugian, Marlena Gilbert, Peter Cronin, Jeff Kubick and by remote – Jennifer McKenzie.

  • Quarterly Financials/Transfers – We are on track with budgeting and housekeeping transfers were also discussed.
  • MSBA Program – Information was provided by the Business & Finance Department as an option to obtain reimbursement for capital expenses at Flo Ro and or other capital expenses.  The deadline for submittals is April 7, 2017. The Superintendent Ryan recommends that we submit for Flo Ro because MSBA would assess the school and provide an observation on what needs to be done there and approval for the application is a lengthy process that could take a couple of years. Marlena Gilbert asked if we could submit multiple projects like the HS windows, boilers or any other capital expenses that are needing to get done.  Business & Finance Dept will confirm if we can submit multiple projects at the same time and any restrictions other than submitting one SOI per school.  You can learn more at MSBA website: http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/building/SOIs/2017_SOI_FAQs
  • FY18 Budget Update – There has been an enrollment change which resulted in a change of assessment between Groton & Dunstable.  Groton is down and Dunstable is up in enrollment changing the percentage for Dunstable from 22.3% to 22.88%. Although that percentage doesn’t sound like much it equates to $160K difference because we are working under the current regional agreement.  Although both towns will be voting on the revised regional agreement in May it still would need to be approved by DESE for the proposed changes to take affect which included a rolling five-year enrollment %. This means that Dunstable will see an % increase of assessment and Groton will see a decrease.  Also, State Funding came in lower than expected.
    • Supt. Bill Ryan suggested that the capital expenses that are in the budget be pulled out to decrease the assessment to both towns and allow both towns to fund capital expenses through warrant articles.
    • Alison Manugian pointed out that it is not the SC that decides how it is funded and it all should be included in the budget, and the SC could request a placeholder on the warrant.
    • Marlena Gilbert stated that she is an advocate for paying one-time expenses with one-time funds, especially since Groton has an opportunity to fund their portion of district capital expenses through a variety of ways including assessment, Free-Cash, and a municipal capital fund.  The opportunity to choose how to pay for these expenses belonged to the taxpayers and suggested we do both, so we are covered.  Warrant article for a list of items and explain they are crucial capital needs that can be funded through a warrant article or assessment. If approved by warrant article the SC can adjust the school budget on the floor.  If not we have a second mechanism to fund the capital needs.
    • The budget will be provided to the SC on February 7th, and they will have the month of February to work with Bill Ryan on how various capital items get funded and what is included in the budget.
  • Prescott Lease – There was the discussion about Central office staying at Prescott.  The unknown of construction inconvenience and the need to relocate for renovation was a concern for the majority if not all of the SC members.  Marlena Gilbert suggested that the SC consider a 1-2 year extension of the current lease as funding for major renovation as well as renovation plans would take time. It is very unlikely that the work would start for 12-24 months and by then the district will have their Building Utilization portion of the audit complete.  Discussions on this topic will continue as the SC does not have to provide a 90-day notice until May 31, 2017, to vacate or request to renew.
  • Discussions of External Audit Review – Total cost is approximate $112-$126k for the entire review. Due to other expenses, this would be funded over two budget cycles unless alternative funding was made available through a warrant article.
  • Discussions of Draft Capital Plan – The Business & Finance Department reviewed the capital plan to identify all items that should be funded in FY17 & FY18 for budget purposes as well as several year projections.  This draft plan will be discussed further with the SC. Some of the items on the list were oil tanks at the Swallow Union, Boutwell HVAC System, HS HVAC System, MS South Kitchen Equipment, Swallow Union Walkways in addition to the one-time expense of the District Programmatic Review (Audit).  There seemed to be a consensus that taxpayers should be given the opportunity to fund capital expenses and the entire audit instead of just a portion of it through warrant articles & or school assessment.  It will then be up to the taxpayers to decide what gets done through voting to approve the funding…  there will be no “kicking the can down the road.”

There will be much discussion, deliberation pertaining to capital expenses within our town and how to fund them.   If you have an opinion on that matter feel free to email your SC and BOS members.

BOS Contacts:  http://townofgroton.org/Town/BoardsCommittees/BoardofSelectmen.aspx

SC Contacts:   http://gdrsd.org/school-committee/

Susan Senator, an author, blogger, journalist, and public speaker living
in Brookline, Massachusetts will be speaking at the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School on February 8, 2017 at 6pm about the importance of self-care in the journey and autism in adulthood.

She has three sons, the oldest of whom is in his twenties and has severe autism. Nat was diagnosed with autism at age three, back in 1992, what she calls The Autism Stone Age. Susan has written
three books in relation to her journey with autism: Making Peace with Autism, The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide, and Autism Adulthood.

Come here her speak, the talk will be followed by a book signing.

Facebook Event:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1347880035287302/

This blog post is my personal interpretation and summary of discussions from meetings that I attend and are not official minutes.

In attendance tonight was Superintendent – Bill Ryan, Asst Superintendent – Dr. Katie Novak, Business & Finance Director – Frank Antonelli and School Committee Members – Angela Donahue, Alison Manugian, Peter Cronin, Marlena Gilbert, Stephanie Cronin, Jeff Kubick and Jennifer Mackenzie.

  • Superintendent Screening Committee Selection – Names were randomly drawn from an envelope to select the committee members. A vote will be taken once the following people have been contacted to reconfirm their interest in participating on the committee.
    • Parents & Community-At-Large – Holly Jared, Paul Keen, Sharon Paradis, Sara Fieberg, Crystal Hermann
    • Teachers – Heather Salemme & Sue Wynn
    • District Staff – Joe Bisbee
    • Central Office – Luke Callahan & TBA\
    • School-level Adm – ES/ECC TBA, MS TBA, HS TBA
    • Municipal Official – Groton TBA, Dunstable TBA
    • Student – HS TBA
  • GD Chamber Choir – Bill Ryan announced that the GD Chamber Choir would perform at the Basilica on Easter Sunday between masses.  This inquiry was made by former Superintendent – Dr. Kristan Rodriguez before her departure, and our current Superintendent – Bill Ryan followed up and ran it by our District attorney and offered to the GD Chamber Choir as an alternative opportunity.  When asked if our District attorney’s letter to Dr. Kristan Rodriguez and Principal Michael Woodlock could be made public for the community to see it, it was explained that it would fall under client/attorney privilege. The GD Chamber Choir seemed to be very happy when they received the alternative offering and he hopes that the rest of the community will share in that.  It is my understanding that Dr. Kristan Rodriguez did not unilaterally make a decision to alter the tour itinerary; her decision was made after receiving legal advice from our District’s attorney, Andrew Waugh of Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP.  Although I do not personally agree with the decision, I understand why the decision was made, I respect that decision and support the decision of our former and current Superintendents. I support the GD Chamber Choir, and I will be attending the fundraiser on Sunday. 
  • High School Ed Report – Principal Mike Woodlock presented information on what challenges and possible solutions he recommends for our HS. The info helped understand the complicated task of HS scheduling and what ways he plans on increasing efficiency while focusing on providing students with a holistic high school experience that prepares them for college or career/military ready. {CLICK HERE FOR HIGH SCHOOL ED REPORT}
  • District Improvement Plan Update – Dr. Katie Novak presented an update on the DIP, and all is proceeding as scheduled with an update expected in the Spring.
  •  Homework Update – Dr. Katie Novak presented an update on the new homework policy. There were three main takeaways from this presentation.  {CLICK HERE FOR HOMEWORK FOLLOW UP PRESENTATION}
    • Communication is needed... we as parents need to provide more feedback to our teachers if the homework assigned exceeds the homework policy.  We as teachers and as parents need to teach children how and when to advocate for themselves so they can inform teachers when the amount of homework is exceeding homework policy.
    • Preparation for college is a concern…. our children in HS receive more homework than they would in college when considering that many colleges provide 1-hour of homework per 3-hour course.  So there is a misconception that the homework policy does not properly prepare students for college as the HS policy is more than that.
    • Time management & study skills...  we need to teach basic homework and study skills and how to cope with stress and anxiety so we can increase engagement.
  • International Field Trips – Heather Salemme presented a short video of the Peru field trip, and you can see how rewarding this trip was for our students.  Our kids are receiving so many incredible opportunities in our district that as a student said tonight “changed their life”.  Here are two videos from two field trips taken by GD students.

The quarterly budget report and transfers will be discussed at our B&F Subcommittee that was rescheduled to Friday, January 27, 2017, due to the weather. For those that are interested in hearing about the FY18 budget, RFP costs/timeline and capital expenses the B&F meeting is at 8am at Prescott.

 

The GD Chamber Choir families received the letter written below informing them that they will be performing at the St. Anthony’s Basilica in Padua!

It is important for the community to note that this new opportunity was requested under the leadership of our former Superintendent – Dr. Kristan Rodriguez and was followed up by our current Superintendent – Bill Ryan. The tour company finally got back to us with this opportunity and that is how this opportunity came to fruition.   It was because of this joint effort of Mr. Ryan and Dr. Rodriguez, Director Tim Savoy, Principal Michael Woodlock and their administration that our choir will be able to perform in the Basilica.

 

{LETTER TO CHAMBER CHOIR FAMILIES}

Good Morning,

This letter is to inform you of plans to reschedule our performance at St. Anthony’s Basilica in Padua, Italy on Easter Sunday 2017.  As many of you know, the need to reschedule this has caused a stir throughout the media and in our towns.  On behalf of Superintendent Ryan and Mr. Woodlock, we would like to thank all of those people who have been so supportive of the students and who have done so in a positive manner.  It is our hope that, going forward, we continue to be positive and set the right example for our young people.

We would also like to acknowledge the hard work done for us on behalf of K1 Concerts to assist us in finding an alternative that will reward the Chamber Choir for all of the hard work and effort that they have put in.  We are pleased to announce that we will, once again, be performing at St. Anthony’s Basilica on Easter Sunday.  We will host a concert in the basilica between masses on this day.  We will be performing three songs.  Keep in mind that this is a complete break in tradition for St. Anthony’s and it speaks to the level to which they were excited for us to perform.  It is a great honor that they would alter tradition to allow us to perform on this very special day in their religious year.

We are very pleased to have our itinerary finalized so that we may plan for an amazing “trip of a lifetime” with this talented group of students.

Sincerely,

Director Tim Savoy, Principal Michael Woodlock and Superintendent Bill Ryan

There has been an incredible amount of anger, and sadness felt this week regarding the changes made to the upcoming GD Chamber’s trip to Italy and Croatia.

I support the difficult decision made by our former Supt., Dr. Rodriguez. The decision to not have the choir perform during Easter Mass was not taken lightly, it was arrived at after seeking legal guidance from the Districts’ attorney.

While we more likely would have won a court battle the cost to the District, to staff individually and most importantly to our kids would have been far greater – both financially, emotionally and could have even resulted in possibly the loss of the trip completely.  As disheartening as this situation is; as a small business owner, I have unfortunately learned first hand that even when a judge rules in your favor you sometimes just don’t win.

 
Our Chamber Choir needs our support; I am asking our community members to refocus our emotions and come together and support these kids financially.

Please think about donating directly or by attending their upcoming concert on January 29, 2017, at the Devens Common Center (31 Andrews Pkwy, Devens, MA). Click on the link for more details.
http://www.gdchamber.org/entrain


Together, let’s get these kids to Italy, they earned it!

Although I do not speak for the entire School Committee, I am a member of the Budget & Finance Sub-Committee for the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District.

I would like to clarify some details on an article that I read in the Groton Herald that may be confusing to community members.  The section of the article is in blue below.

Dr. Bill Ryan reported that the budget process was, “in good shape” and that he had been meeting with interim business director Frank Antonelli ahead of his official start date so that he was up to speed on what will probably be his most important contribution to the district in the months ahead.

Although detailed budget numbers will not be possible until they get information from the state on items like transportation subsidies and teacher benefits costs, they said their current estimate is that Groton will need to come up with an additional $750,000 and Dunstable, $220,000 to fund the district. 

This exactly matches Groton’s “placeholder” budget for the schools which was announced in a packed meeting in town hall by Town Manager Mark Haddad as a great gift to the schools from the town “for our kids education,” since it represents a four percent growth rate rather than the 3.6 percent the district was expecting.

Clarification:

The School Committee has not approved an FY18 district budget and has not received a preliminary budget that would represent the fact that our assessment matches the placeholder number that was utilized by the TM.  Our Superintendent & building administrators are working very hard to minimize the assessment to our towns; every budget line item in every department, our enrollment, our class sizes, our offerings are all being reviewed very carefully and that does include the Special Education Department. As mentioned in the article we could see some reorganizations to improve efficiency under the direction of our Superintendent.

Also, the District has capital expenses that must be paid in FY17 as well as what is considered emergency or priority expenses for FY18.  At our last B&F meeting, we discussed bringing these forward for discussion with the Groton Fin Com & Dunstable Advisory Board at our next joint meeting in an effort to come up with a creative, collaborative way to fund them. A short list was acquired by our Business & Finance Department and provided to both of the respective Board Chairs.

 

ONE-TIME EXPENSES 2017
External Operational Review 50,000.00
Superintendent’s search 15,000.00
Water issues at High 200,000.00
Recycling 1,700.00
SPED Transportation FY16 invoices 15,000.00
Sick Leave Buy back 4,025.00
HS Water Engineering fees 19,100.00
Total FY17 Items 304,825.00
ONE-TIME EXPENSES 2018
Replacement of Dump Truck 60,000.00
MSS Locker Replacement 25,000.00
Replacement of (4) Lawnmowers (2 Small and 2 Large) 25,000.00
Replacement of District Wide Phone System and Internet Infastructure 400,000.00
Boutwell HVAC System 60,000.00
MSS Kitchen Equipment Upgrade 50,000.00
HS Black Box Theater Flooring and Lighting Replacement 130,000.00
SU Exterior Painting of Union Building 50,000.00
SU Replacement of Main Walkway 50,000.00
SU Removal of (2) Oil Tanks and Gas Conversion 50,000.00
SU Replacement of the Union Building Boiler 80,000.00
Total FY18 Items 980,000.00
In summary, being “in good shape” does not mean that the assessment will fit neatly into the placeholder utilized by the TM and it would be unwise for anyone to make that assumption before having a School Committee approved FY18 district budget.
Respectfully,
Marlena Gilbert
School Committee Member & B&F Sub-Committee Member

This blog post is my personal interpretation and summary of discussions from meetings that I attend and are not official minutes.

Today/night was a double header for me.  This morning the B&F meeting took place at 8 am. In attendance was SC members – Alison Manugian, Jeff Kubick, Angela Donahue and Marlena Gilbert, Supt. – Bill Ryan, Business & Finance Director – Frank Antonelli and Business Manager – Michael Knight.

  • Gift Proposal – Review of gift proposal of a parcel of land (adjacent to the high school) from the Tully family of Dunstable. The land is approximately 5 acres and is land locked. This land would be gifted to the district and could be utilized for various things. The consensus was to recommend that the SC accepts the land providing there are no outstanding trust challenges or restrictions that would potentially prohibit the district utilizing the land in the future should that situation arise.
  • FY18 Budget Update – discussions about the budget took place including pulling some of the capital or one-time expenses from the operation budget to be included in warrant articles and getting some competitive quotes for worker’s comp, and other avenues are being explored in the effort to minimize the operational budget/assessment for both towns. State funding will not be released until the end of January. However, the consensus was that it would be beneficial for there to be another B&F meeting to review the progress of the FY18 before it being finalized and submitted to the SC for consideration. The Capital Plan is expected to be approved in time for by Spring Town Meeting; with a Capital Plan in place, the SC will make a second attempt to ask Dunstable to vote to establish a Captial Plan so the district can have another vehicle to fund the districts neglected Captial needs like leaky roofs, heating units, etc.
  • FY17 Budget Transfers – There were some minor transfers that were mainly housekeeping items that will be voted on at our next regular scheduled SC meeting.
  • Damages & Insurance Claims – There some damages at the high school from a lightening strike that included a light pole and generator.  An insurance claim was put in and already paid out to the district.
  • Groton Sustainability Report – Alison provided a sample of the slide presentation she has been working on to present at a future SC meeting to allow the community the understanding of how a 2.4% growth would affect the district.                           MEETING ADJOURNED ROUGHLY 10 AM

FINCOM/GROTON BOS JOINT MEETING

The Fin Com/Groton BOS meeting took place at 7 pm this evening.  In attendance was all the Groton BOS Members, all the Fin Com Members, the entire SC as well as the Supt – Bill Ryan and the Town Manager – Mark Haddad.  The SC was called to order as we were posted for a meeting but not specifically a joint meeting with the Fin Com/Groton BOS as this was a municipal budget presentation and it was made very clear several times that the number utilized for the schools was a place value based on the budget guidance provided to the Town Manager of not to exceed 2.4% growth increase.

  • The town manager provided three budgets as requested. The budgets can be seen at http://www.townofgroton.org/
    • 2.29% budget increase provided a level service budget.
    • 1.2% budget provides some cuts; that did not include Senior budget or Public Safety.
    • 0% budget provided cuts to Public Safety and various other budget items.
  • There was an inquiry for clarification as to how the max 2.4% guidance was established by the Town Manager.  It was explained that after the last several years of underfunding the schools the increase of funding over the last few years has evened off the playing field.  The district has received approximately 4 million dollars more since 2013 including the debt crisis funding.
    • When asked if the 2.4% guidance considered the fact that 5.3 million dollars of Free Cash have been allocated at Town Meeting over the last few years for the municipal Capital Fund, Stabilization Fund and various municipal expenses the answer was no.
    • The town manager explained that the free cash is much like the District E&D account and is the municipals E&D that after revenues/expenses are accounted for the remaining is municipal E&D. The district controls the amount of the assessment to the town in which the differential or revenues/expenses is certified at year’s end as E&D funds for the district. This process is much like the municipal process, after receiving the district assessment, all municipal revenues and municipal expenses are accounted for the differential is certify as Free Cash (E&D) for the municipal.
    • When asked – Does that mean that a higher assessment would then result in less Free Cash, the answer was yes if revenues were available.   I found that interesting because the Town Manager is required to provide a balanced budget by 12/31 which can NOT include an override; therefore he must use a place marker for the schools (one that is not provided to him from the schools). The draft town budget is set with the projected revenues/expenses of the Town Manager, then the approved school budget is added to it in late Feb/early March. Often this means that the total budget now exceeds projected revenues and this triggers an override. The BOS are the only board that can put an override question on the ballot and choose the wording.  This means that if a portion of the school budget is contingent on an override our taxes go up to fund the schools instead of using a portion of our trending Free Cash we have had over the last six years. I am not an advocate for using Free Cash for operating expenses, but I am an advocate for using our Free Cash in a way to save for emergencies and minimize the tax burden. Here is a spreadsheet that I composed from the meeting minutes of the Groton Town Meetings from 2010-2016.  It shows what and when free cash that has been allocated in Groton for items outside of the operation budget and what has been given back to taxpayers. I found it interesting that most of the allocation takes place out of budget cycle at Fall Town Meeting.  If nothing else maybe this info will encourage more voters to attend future town meetings; unless you prefer to have someone else choose where your tax dollars are spent. 

{CLICK HERE TO SEE WHERE YOUR FREE CASH HAS BEEN ALLOCATED}              

It is your tax money and your opportunity to let your elected officials know how you want it spent.  If you can not attend a meeting, then email is a great alternative. Engage Groton!

Groton BOS: http://www.townofgroton.org/Town/BoardsCommittees/BoardofSelectmen.aspx

GDRSD:  http://gdrsd.org/school-committee/

Groton Fin Com:  http://www.townofgroton.org/Town/BoardsCommittees/FinanceCommittee.aspx