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SC Meeting: January 3, 2023

At the January 3 School Committee meeting there was a FY24 Budget Consultation with the Town Manager and a FY24 Budget Discussion regarding School Counseling Services.

Superintendent Comments

  • There will be a Public Hearing on the FY24 Budget Request on January 17 at 6:30pm at Broadmeadow

  • NHS Quiz Bowl Team is one of 17 of 65 Teams that have qualified for the WGBH High School Quiz Bowl Tournament.

FY24 Budget Consultation with the Town Manager

Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick and Assistant Town Manager Dave Davison joined the School Committee for their annual Budget Consultation. Kate Fitzpatrick gave an update on the Town Capital Plan as a whole and School Committee Members asked questions. Highlights of discussion:

  • There is no expectation of increased revenue this year. Estimates of State Aid will be later than usual due to the transition to a new Governor. Regardless, revenue will not keep up with expected cost increases.

  • In October 2016, a Capital Plan to renovate/replace eight town buildings was developed. Progress since then includes new High School classrooms/cafeteria addition, the brand new Sunita Williams elementary school, Police and two Fire Station renovations, and renovations to the Memorial Park Field House and Rosemary Pool & Rec Center. With the start of the Emery Grover Renovation, there is only one building left. The remaining project is the Public Works Building Renovation, for which a plan is still being formulated. Upcoming discussions will now focus on the Pollard and Mitchell School renovation/replacement options.

  • Goal to streamline efficiencies throughout town government; lots of suggestions were received from different departments, boards and committees.

  • Trying to find creative ways to find and retain quality employees; there have been increased retirements at the same time as fewer young people are entering public employment. High priority has been adding staff in health and mental health services (aging, youth & family services, epidemiology, nursing services).

  • There are significant anticipated future costs for maintenance of existing school buildings and infrastructure/HVAC improvements in the medium age schools. They have been putting aside funds for this but would also like to find a new revenue stream for school maintenance.

  • A lot of town staff were funded by federal/state funding during the pandemic. These staff are now essential and they are working on how to maintain these positions if these governmental funding streams are eliminated.

  • Uncertainty remains over the war in Ukraine and how that will affect costs of energy and inflation.

  • Deadlines for storm water regulatory issues will require legislative and regulatory action.

  • Climate concerns: planning for improved efficiencies, solar & electric access, storm preparation.

School Committee members expressed their appreciation for how Needham invests in the youth of our community in all aspects of town development.

FY24 Budget Discussion regarding Counseling Services

Mary Lammi, Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services, presented about the FY24 Budget Request for School Counseling Services. Highlights of the presentation and subsequent discussion with School Committee members:

  • School counseling is critical to student learning and growth. All students have access to a school counselor. Counselors work with social and emotional development, mental and behavioral health support, academic development, career and college preparation.

  • Average caseload for a school counselor is 250 students. This is the recommended average from the American School Counselors Association. A couple of the elementary schools are a bit above this average so some budget requests are to target this issue.

  • Post pandemic, School counselors note increased mental & behavioral health needs throughout the district. A District Mental Health team was created last year with school staff and community partners and is drafting a Mental Health framework.

New Budget requests:

  • 0.5 FTE School counselor to fund existing temporary FTE and address elementary caseloads

  • 1.0 FTE Director of School Counseling for Gr 7-12. This would allow the existing K-12 director of guidance position to focus full-time on preK-6. This K-12 position is currently held by an interim director after longtime director Tom Denton's retirement and has not yet been permanently filled.

If approved, the two Directors of School Counseling will work in partnership to oversee a cohesive program of school counseling. There are increased needs especially at the secondary level with increased mental health needs as well as post-secondary college/career planning, so dividing the current K-12 position into two separate full-time roles makes sense. It may be challenging to hire two new director level positions but this collaborative approach will better support both the counseling staff and students.

  • PreK-6 supports 6 schools, 2955 students and 15 counselors

  • Gr7-12 supports 2 schools, 2544 students and 22 counselors

  • Multi-tiered system of support framework: Goal to become more data informed

Concerns regarding equity within counseling were raised by School Committee members. They noted that families have varied access to outside supports with some hiring expensive private college counselors while others need to access all of these services through the schools. They would like to get feedback from parents about how well their students' post-secondary planning needs are being met by the high school counselors and discuss if there are any changes/additions that should be made to the current program.

Action items

  • Transportation Drivers Retention Incentive approved unanimously.

  • 2023-2024 School Calendar approved unanimously. First day of the 2023-24 School year will be Wednesday, August 30, 2023.

School Committee Comments

  • The Martin Luther King Jr Day celebration is on Jan 16th from 10-11:30 at Needham High School. More information can be found at the Needham Diversity Initiative website.

The next School Committee meeting will be January 17, 2023 at 6:30pm


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