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

In attendance, Supt. – Dr. Chesson, Asst. Supt. – Dr. Novak, Business & Finance Director – Michael Knight, Director of Pupil Services – Jill Greene, SC Members – Marlena Gilbert, Jennifer McKenzie, Ryan McLane, Brian LeBlanc, Peter Cronin and Jeff Kubick.

  • FY19 Budget Presentation & Distribution – Michael Knight presented the budget to the SC. Questions were held for our next meeting/public forum scheduled for February 28, 2018. Knight, was commended for the format and transparency. The budget booklet shows ACTUAL expenditures going back to FY15 to current, FY18 budget transfers and a line item explanation of the change of line-item funding to justify each line item budgeted in the FY19 budget.  By providing previous year actuals expenditures you can truly see the methodology utilized in establishing a budget for each individual line item that results in an overall transparent budget. 
  • Groton Comparable/Market Basket Districts – The SC had tasked administration with establishing a set of districts that we could utilize as comparables for GD, towns should be similar to Groton & Dunstable in various ways. There was a methodical strategic method in which Dr. Novak, Jill Greene, and Dr. Chesson comprised this list.  It included Districts 50 miles from our Central Office, enrollment, % of economically disadvantaged, % of students with disabilities, P/A% for ELA and Math, SPG ELA, SPG ELA, tax base and income level of towns.
  • HS Baseball Field Trip – Trip to Rhode Island was approved unanimously by the SC
  • Robotic Competition Trips – Transportation for Robotic Competition trips will be provided by carpooling with Nashoba Tech as their robotics team is attending the competitions. Due to the liability, students will be required to either take the bus or be driven by an adult chaperone to all competitions.
  • Early Childhood Coordinator Job Description – A job description was approved by the SC to advertise for a permanent at the Boutwell School.
  • DMG Audit – The final report has been reviewed by the SC and Administration, The Supt. was tasked with bringing forth action items from the recommendations.  The SC will continue discussions with the Supt. recommendations at a future SC meeting and vote on the recommendations at a future meeting.  What is important to understand when reviewing the presentation is that the SC required DMG to bring forth opportunities for efficiencies in an effort for reallocation for District needs, they do not take into consideration if they are educationally beneficial for our District.  The Supt. was tasked with evaluating the opportunities so she can bring forth recommendations for the SC to consider. 
  • MSBA/Flo Ro Feasibility Study Warrant Article – The SC discussed submitting a warrant article for the estimated $750,000 feasibility study required by the MSBA and a necessity to make informed decisions that will affect taxpayers over the next 50 years.  The warrant article was approved by the SC. Below are some historical feasibility costs for elementary schools and the information we are buying with taxpayer dollars. 

The Feasibility Study will include billable hours from an Engineer, OPM (Owner’s Project Manager) and Designer and will include but not limited to the following information.

  • Documents educational program current and evaluate program space needed for future needs based on enrollment trends.
  • Generates an initial space summary and evaluates the program and nonprogram space needed for future needs based on enrollment trends.
  • Evaluate existing k-8 grade configuration. Develop and evaluate alternatives that are advantageous both educationally and financially over the course of the next 50 years.
  • An examination and identification of potential alternatives to construction or renovation of a facility whether or not such alternatives are eligible for Authority reimbursement.
  • One of the alternatives shall be an analysis of a no-build or status quo option, to be used as a benchmark for comparative analysis of all other alternatives.
  • An analysis of school district student school assignment practices and an analysis of available space in other school facilities in the district.
  • The utilization of under-utilized or vacant facilities potentially available for the proposed use for the Proposed Project.
  • The lease, rental or acquisition of existing buildings that could be made available for school use pursuant to M.G.L. c. 70B, § 8.
  • The use of a change in student composition with other schools within District.
  • A detailed and itemized cost estimate for each alternative.
  • An evaluation of the environmental and cost impact of construction phasing on students and staff occupying a renovated building, and any relocation options or off-hour construction that may be required for each alternative.
  • An evaluation of the existing conditions at no more than three sites, unless otherwise determined by the Authority, that shall include, but not be limited to, a geotechnical evaluation and soils exploration, a Phase I Initial Site Investigation conforming to 310 CMR 40.00, performed by a licensed site professional.
  • A review of the District’s operational and capital budget. This review includes, but not be limited to:
    • A review and analysis of the Budget Statement for Educational Objectives.
    • A review and analysis of the District’s operating and capital budget.
    • An analysis of the ability of the District to support the operating and capital costs of each alternative, including the increased costs of instructional, utilities, maintenance and transportation support and any debt service associated with each alternative, which may be in addition to costs already being incurred.
    • During the Feasibility Study, the District and its team collaborate with the MSBA to generate an initial space summary, document existing conditions and establish design parameters, develop and evaluate alternatives, and recommend the most cost-effective and educationally appropriate solution to the MSBA Board of Directors.

Gilbert did express that the MSBA will be getting back to the administration by the weekend with the decision as to if we can include the 170 students under the current SOI to allow Dunstable the reimbursement of the project as well.   Gilbert & McKenzie expressed their desire to include Dunstable in this study out of necessity for information at a Districtwide level to make the best decisions for the District which includes both towns.  If Swallow Union is included in the study because it is slated for a renovation or rebuild in the next 15 years it would provide much-needed information for Dunstable.  It would provide a thorough evaluation of the condition of Swallow and an evaluated alternative that would include both Dunstable and Groton elementary students.

All Groton members expressed the want to discuss including Dunstable/Swallow in the feasibility study at a future meeting. With a deadline for the Groton warrant articles on February 23, 2018, a vote for the warrant article was time sensitive, however there will be an opportunity to amend it. Members expressed the need to sumbit a warrant article at Groton Spring Town Meeting so that they do not limit the committee in moving forward with Groton only project if that is the preferred option of the committee.

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

In attendance was the Dunstable BoS Members, Town Advisor Tracey Hutton, various Dunstable Advisory Members (not in session-no quorum), Supt. Dr. Chesson, Business & Finance Director Michael Knight and SC Members – Marlena Gilbert, Jennifer McKenzie, Brian LeBlank and Ryan McLane.

  •  Flo Ro MSBA Project – Gilbert requested a joint meeting with the Dunstable BoS to discuss the possibilities and interest level of Dunstable wanting to participate in building one elementary to accommodate both Groton and Dunstable students as well as discuss how an independent reno/rebuild of Flo Ro for Groton Students would affect Dunstable and Swallow Union.
    • Supt. brought a presentation of some possible scenarios for Dunstable for the sole purpose of beginning discussions. This is not by anyways set opportunities and true opportunities accompanied by educational and financial pros/cons would be found through a feasibility study.

Gilbert expressed the desire to make an educated decision which would require information that is included in the feasibility study required by the MSBA.  If Dunstable wanted to be included in the feasibility study it would allow us to include an option for a schematic for one school to accommodate both Groton and Dunstable students and the return of Swallow Union to Dunstable and Florence Roche to Groton.   Dunstable BoS all shared the desire of acquiring the information but are unable to make an informed decision on one school or maintaining Swallow at this time.

  • The Chair of the Dunstable BoS – He requests the Supt. make a decision based what is in the best interest of our District, if she believes a Districtwide Feasibility Study is necessary for us to move forward they would support it.
  • Gilbert – If it was a Districtwide study it would fall under a Districtwide expense per our regional agreement making Dunstable responsible for approximately 22% (approximately $165,000).
  • McKenzie – This study will allow Dunstable to know what options are available and financial/educational implications, without this information, it is difficult for voters to make an informed decision.
  • Gilbert – She was elected by Groton taxpayers, as such when considering the necessity of this expense had expressed concern of asking taxpayers to pay additional taxes to approve this necessity when there are ample savings both on the municipal and school side.  She believes strongly that savings should be utilized for this expense and then replenished with the expected town Free Cash certification comes in this Fall as we anticipate another healthy year of Free Cash Certification in Groton due to conservative revenue projections. Notably, the conservative budget allowed Groton to establish a favorable bond rating, however, there comes a time in which we may want to spend savings versus borrow and or request additional money from taxpayers. I believe this is one of those times. 
    • The District Certified E&D is at a healthy level of $1.6 million, which is approximately 4% of the GDRSD budget.
    • Groton Stabilization Fund is at a healthy level of 1.79 million, which is approximately 5% of the Groton Town Budget (including the schools) – $36 million.
    • Groton Town Annual Certified Free Cash averages 1.4 million dollars certified each Fall

The meeting was concluded at roughly 9 pm.

Further discussions will continue under the agenda item MSBA Warrant Article at the next upcoming meeting as the SC is expected to consider altering the MSBA Feasibility Study to be a K-8 Districtwide Study and include evaluating the educational and financial benefits of building one elementary school to accommodate both Groton and Dunstable elementary students as well as Groton independently renovating and or rebuilding Flo Ro for Groton students in Groton.


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

In attendance was Superintendent – Dr. Laura Chesson, Assistant Superintendent – Dr. Katie Novak, Business & Finance Director – Michael Knight and SC Members – Marlena Gilbert, Jennifer McKenzie, Ryan McLane, Brian LeBlanc, Angela Donahue and Jeff Kubick.

  • Middle School Schedule Change Consideration – The Supt. brought forth a draft of some changes they are investigating for the MS in this presentation. These changes would be budget neutral through reallocation of funds available through attrition (not replacing retiring teachers). I have touched upon a few of the items that I am excited about below, although all are positive notable changes.
    • Considerations for Modifications to Middle School Schedule – First Draft
      • OWL (Organic World Language) – This has been incredibly successful at our HS and administration is investigating at bringing the opportunity to the MS schedule next year.  Here is a video that shares some info on OWL:
      • Grade 5/6 Increased Instruction Time ELA & Math.
      • Redesign Flexblock providing more structure pertaining to activities and timeframe.
      • Create Principals of Engineering Class in some grades to pull those standards from Science classes.
      • Provide nonperfromance based music programs for grades 5 & 6.
  • Implementation of UDL – Dr. Katie Novak provided a presentation on how the administration will be measuring the implementation of UDL in our district.
  • Analysis of Change to Family Cap/Athletic Fees – The SC discussed the impact of lowering the family cap from $2200 to $1200, and $100 increments thereafter in an effort to provide some financial relief to parents that not only pay ample taxes but also pay these cost in athletic fees. The SC held off voting on approving any decrease in the athletic fees until they have the opportunity to review the entire draft school budget that is being presented to the committee on February 7, 2018.  At this time there was a consensus amongst the committee to change at a minimum the MS & HS individual caps to one family cap of $1200 for the FY19 budget as we are the only district that has two individual caps that combined equate to a $2200 family cap. 
  • E&D and District Stabilization Fund – The SC discussed and finalized financial policies governing the District Excess & Deficiency Account and District Stabilization Fund. The policies are based on best practices and laws governed by the state and DESE.  Gilbert expressed a desire to collaborate with both towns through further discussions on possibly tweaking financial policies at a municipal and district level in an effort for both the municipal & District to be able to have adequate reserves and operating budgets. The DOR and DESE have recommendations in regards to what percentage of your budget should be in reserves, however, they are based on a municipal school district, as a regional District with two member town our taxpayers are better served through a collaboration of financial policies. 
  • GDEA/Unit A Teachers Contract Negotiations – Negotiations have concluded and the SC has ratified the contract renewal.  I would like to thank the teachers collaborating with our SC in the best interest of our students, some of the notable changes in this contract are below. 
    • Term: 9/1/17 to 8/31/20
    • COLA increase
      • 1.5% (year one)
      • 2.25% (year two)
      • 2.25% (year three)
    • Amendment to hours at the Swallow Union & Flo Ro effective September 1, 2018. Twenty (20) additional minutes to the elementary school day, of which fifteen (15) minutes shall be for student instruction and fie (5) minutes shall be for recess.
    • Amendment to add language for the District to provide access to an electronic grade book, which will allow students, parents/guardians access to all grades online, ie homework, classroom assignments, assessments, quizzes etc.
    • Amendment to add language to provide a sick leave bank to be used when an employee is prevented from working because of employee’s illness or injury and when this disability is of a prolonged nature that is fifteen consecutive working days or more. The sick leave bank would be established by the members of the bargaining unit voluntarily contributing sick days that they accumulated for the use of participating employees whose sick leave is exhausted through the employee’s prolonged illness.
  • Policies – SC considered updates of policies and were approved after final discussions. The updated versions will be sent to MASC and they will upload them to our website.
    • KEP Public Complaints about School Personnel
    • KEC – Public Complaints about the Curriculum or Instruction Materials.
  • Liaison Reports 
    • Groton BoS Liaison – Gilbert reported that one of the members of the BoS expressed concern and was very upset about the lack of conclusion of the sustainability work done by the District Sustainability Committee.  Gilbert shared the fact that contract negotiations took precedence over the work, especially with the audit underway which was done in an effort to yield savings in our own budget for reallocation of services needed.  Once negotiations are complete we could continue the work.  Donahue as the chair of the Sustainability Committee expressed that this was discussed with the committee and with the changes being considered, possible implemented would significantly change what numbers would be used in the model and yield an unrealistic outcome.  Prior to the committee continuing its work we should finalize our transportation costs and decision on custodial outsourcing as that will change the figures utilized for the sustainability model. Gilbert expressed that there is also a need to account for Free Cash to be used for one time expenses, coordination of financial policies for reserves and the use of actual revenue numbers versus budgeted projections for authenticity.
    • DMG Consultant Update – The final report for the staffing & special education is complete and uploaded to the District website.  The process for this report will mirror the process followed from the Abrahams Report, the administration will draft actionable items for the SC to consider. This will be discussed at our upcoming meeting in which the SC will consider what actionable items the administration should pursue possible efficiencies and reallocation to improve the performance of our students.