At the September 5 School Committee meeting the School Master Plan Update and an Opening of School Update were discussed. School Committee also voted to approve the Unit D Contract and FY25 Budget Guidelines.
NHS Chorus students sang the National Anthem to open the meeting.
Needham community members are welcome to make a public comment at the start of each meeting at 6:30pm either in person or on Zoom.
SC would like to acknowledge the hard work and heroic efforts of the custodial and maintenance staff who got all the school buildings clean and ready for school opening.
Introduced Lea Gruen, this year’s student member of the School Committee. The student member participates in all discussions but is a non-voting member of the School Committee.
SC and Dr. Gutekanst recognized Cheryl Gosmon, who was the Recording Secretary of the School Committee for over 20 years, and acknowledged the great value that detailed meeting minutes provide to the SC and the community. Ms. Gosmon shared stories of some of the most memorable moments of her tenure as Recording Secretary. Ms. Gosmon is now the Executive Director of the Needham Housing Authority.
Action Item: Vote the Unit D Contract
Unit D represents the Clerical and Technical Support Staff, please see packet for the Memorandum of Agreement. Highlights of the new contract:
COLA increases of 2% in the current fiscal year, 2% next year, and 2.5% in the 3rd year of the contract.
Equalized pay annually throughout the year for 10/11-month employees.
New evaluation tool will be set up.
Juneteenth will be a recognized holiday for these staff
Differentiated compensation for some of the different skill levels and responsibilities of technicians
Referral bonus; allow for remote work during summer or holiday breaks in accordance with the NPS remote work policy
Dr. Gutekanst recommended that the School Committee vote to approve this contract. SC Vote approved the Unit D contract unanimously.
School Master Plan Update
Statement of Interest (SOI) was submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) last spring to apply for funds for the renovation of the Pollard and Mitchell Schools. The MSBA will conduct a “Senior Study” of Pollard in October and will visit the school and speak with school & town staff prior to deciding whether to accept the Pollard renovation as an MSBA project.
Donald Walter and Michelle Rogers from Dore & Whittier and Hank Haff, Needham’s Director of Building Design and Construction presented an update on the School Master Plan. They reminded the community that this is a very fluid process and these are broad numbers, however estimated costs have increased significantly since the last time this information was presented due to market changes post-COVID. Some potential scenarios go out 30 years which makes it difficult to estimate costs. If the town is accepted into the MSBA process, there will then be a full study to iron out all the details and specific costs.
After years of extensive study and discussion of the School Master Plan, these are the potential options still being considered, with the "Pollard first" options allowing significantly faster completion for less cost. Costs will vary based on whether Pollard, Mitchell, or both are completed through the MSBA process. The MSBA process would provide some funding for the project, but it also increases the time required to complete the build and therefore increases costs related to timeline extension (interim building maintenance, increasing supply costs, etc). In the C options, Pollard is considered as an MSBA project, in the D options, Pollard is not an MSBA project. The E option would renovate Mitchell first, maintains the school grade distributions as they are currently, requires construction of temporary facilities and renovations to four schools, costs the most, and would take significantly longer to complete. For more details of each option, please see the packet.
It is still unknown if these projects will be accepted by the MSBA and what the reimbursement rate would be if accepted, so potential MSBA reimbursements are not reflected in the current estimated cost projections. Recent projects in surrounding communities have received reimbursement of about 20% of total project costs.
After a decision by the MSBA, the next step will likely be to request Feasibility Study funding from Town Meeting in May 2024 so the town can move forward with the Pollard project. School Committee is aware that these are very expensive, long term projects but feel they are critically important to meet Needham's programmatic and enrollment needs and also allow flexibility for future school needs.
Opening of School Update
Dr Gutekanst gave an update on the opening of school. Highlights:
Enrollment: Preliminary enrollment is 5596 students (last year was 5533). Kindergarten enrollment is lower than expected but Gr 6-8 is higher. In October 2019 enrollment was 5706, so while enrollment is increasing, we are still about 100 students lower than pre-pandemic levels. Final enrollment numbers will be submitted to the state in October.
Staffing: HR filled 115 positions, 75 were professional/certified staff. There are currently 13 Instructional Assistant (TA) vacancies; last year at this time there were 30 vacancies. There are always open positions at the start of the year, but this year they are starting in a much better position.
Transportation: 1976 students registered for the bus, 22 buses, 17 routes that are at or near capacity. Of note, this year there is no waitlist for the bus and all driving positions are currently filled.
Nutrition Services: NPS will provide free breakfast and lunch to all students through funding provided by the state. Anything that is a la carte, or extra, such as second entrees, snacks, will still be charged a fee. No applications are required for free lunch, however families that have qualified for free meals in the past are encouraged to fill out the application for the purpose of receiving scholarships, fee waivers, or fee reductions for student programs, extracurricular activities, field trips, etc.
Childcare: NEDP has a waitlist at Broadmeadow, Sunita Williams, and Mitchell. They are working on resolving these waitlists if possible. The district does offer early childcare for staff members, and there are currently 50 children age 0-3y enrolled.
Action Item: Approve FY25 Budget Guidelines
FY25 Budget Guidelines were discussed at the August School Committee Meeting. SC voted to approve the FY 25 Budget Guidelines unanimously.
School Committee & Superintendent Updates
Michael Greis visited Emery Grover for an update on the renovation. Project is moving along nicely; while there are always unexpected findings in every renovation that may eat into the project contingency fund, the project remains on schedule. They anticipate installing the windows before the weather gets cold so the interior work can proceed during the winter.
Official SC school liaison assignments for the 2023-2024 school year can be found in the packet.
The next School Committee meeting will be Sept 19 at 6:30pm.