The January 19 School Committee meeting included a discussion and public hearing on the FY22 school budget. In addition, the NHS Advisory to School Committee presented an update, and two warrant articles for the upcoming annual Town meeting were discussed.
No members of the public wished to comment. Connie Barr reassured members of the community that all emails sent to the SC are read and considered, even when the content is similar from multiple senders (for example, a letter-writing campaign). She acknowledged that identical emails WILL receive similar responses from the School Committee chair.
Dr. Gutekanst thanked families and student for following health protocols amid rising infection rates, and encouraged continued compliance to ensure that in-person school, sports, and activities can continue.
After receiving a letter from some NPS interested alumni, an NPS alumnus has been added to the REAL Coalition.
NHS Student Advisory to School Committee
Several students from the NHS student council provided an update to SC on events and activities being planned at the high school. Community-building outdoor activities and fundraising sales are being organized in all grades. The focus is on boosting class spirit despite having to cancel or rethink traditional events.
Public Hearing: FY22 Budget
Prior to taking comments from the public on the budget, Dr. Gutekanst reviewed the proposed budget request as originally presented at the December 8 School Committee meeting. When planning for the FY22 budget, the following were prioritized:
Provide resources to address health and safety needs of all students and staff
Implement Portrait of a Needham Graduate Strategic Priorities
Plan for supplemental needs required for remote and hybrid learning
Continue the ongoing refinement of curriculum, instruction and assessment practices
Develop and maintain educational resources and a technology infrastructure that supports student learning and meets District goals
FY22 Non-COVID budget (assumes minimal COVID needs) proposed increases are:
Contractual Salary Increases: $1.5 million
Level Service: $1.1 million
Program Improvements: $263,000
This brings the budget increase total to an additional $2,868,308. The increase accounts for class size changes, inflation, special education tuition and is a 3.55% increase over FY21, the smallest proposed increase in several years.
The proposed increase also supplies increased special education support with the addition of 4.0 FTE teaching assistants and 0.65 FTE speech therapist/teacher, accounting for $283,642. Other staffing requests are minimal across all elementary, middle and high school levels with a total of 2.42 FTE additions.
Technology increases include high school computers, digital learning devices and online literacy programs, making up $337,159 of the proposed budget increase. District Management updates include HR software, PPE, cleaning supplies, updated accounting program & a transportation subsidy, totaling $285,273.
While the school administration is currently anticipating a full return to school in the fall, planning is still needed to ensure they are ready for a hybrid return should State and DESE guidelines require it. A supplemental COVID budget request for an additional $3.2 million includes:
Program deficits $972,937
Hybrid Staffing $350,787
Remote learning academy $1,371,475
Supplies & PPE $515,000
This year's COVID-related costs, most notably the staffing for the remote academy, were covered by a combination of federal grants and money diverted from the FY21 budget. The FY22 supplemental budget will allow for the continuation of the current COVID-related staffing and resources. It is likely there will once again be federal grants available that will help cover these costs, but that information is not available yet.
The total increase from the FY21 budget of $80,735,089 to FY22 budget of $86,813,596 represents an increase of $6,078,507, or 7.5%, though that number may be revised as more information becomes available. Both the Town Manager and Finance Committee are considering a separate warrant article to be presented at the Spring Town Meeting to cover all COVID-related costs for schools and the town.
Only one person wished to comment during the public hearing. She praised the district for the expanded K-8 Social Studies leadership position, and requested clarification on how the position will be structured.
The School Committee will vote on the budget at next week's meeting.
2021 Annual Town Meeting Warrant Article Requests
Due to COVID, previous Town Meeting warrant article requests slated to be presented at the Spring 2020 Town Meeting were delayed until Spring 2021. There are currently two warrant article requests:
The creation of a special education reserve fund to address large and unanticipated increases in expenses. Town Meeting would approve the creation of the fund, and the Select Board and School Committee would approve accessing the funds. Ideally, the creation of the fund would occur for FY22 and plans to replenish the fund each year could be done by adding it to the towns operating budget, allowing contributions to begin in FY23.
To seek possible reimbursement for transportation expenses incurred transporting students in foster care for whom there is no other means for seeking funding. DESE, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Children & Families have established a methodology of reimbursing districts up to 20%. This article would require Town Meeting to authorize the Town Manager to enter into an agreement to pursue funding through these agencies
Update on Student Learning
While it was anticipated that Dr. Gutekanst would present a proposal for changes to the hybrid model, he stated that he is not yet able to share an update. Planning is moving forward, but discussions are still taking place with teachers and the NEA. He acknowledged that the current elementary hybrid model is not sustainable for students and staff, and identified the following critical needs:
students in K-2 require more structure, support and skill building
youngest learners have little, or in some cases, no support at home due to family circumstances or employment
youngest students are struggling to stay connected, focused and learning during the at-home week resulting in frustration and anxiety and disengagement from learning, teachers and friends at school
The entire staff is committed to improvement and the current agreement with the NEA includes the following:
flexibility and the opportunity to learn and adapt will be essential in all aspects of the planning
throughout this year we commit to reflecting, discussing, and reviewing how the models with which we are working are having an impact on students and staff and make adjustments for improvement
Dr. Gutekanst intends to share an update on his proposal to enhance and strengthen the hybrid model within the next two weeks.
The next School Committee meeting is Tuesday, January 26.