The Plympton School Committee met virtually on Monday, March 28. Committee Chair Jon Wilhelmsen brought up the ongoing issue of dog waste on the school fields as well as a recent incident involving a dog bite. Resident Heather Sanda said she was out for a run when she encountered three dogs with an owner on school grounds. One of the dogs jumped on her and bit her hip and knee which prompted her to call the police. “There is no leash law in Plympton so all that happened was this dog was taken home and put under house arrest for ten days to be monitored for rabies,” Sanda explained. “People just use it as a dog park and it is not a dog park,” Sanda said of the school fields. Sanda said that some of the first-grade teachers have recalled students coming in from recess with dog waste on their shoes. “I know we have had this conversation too many times; we have given people the opportunity to clean up after their dogs… my understanding is nothing is any different than it was before,” Wilhelmsen said. Amy Hempel spoke on behalf of the Plympton Athletic Youth Sports (P.A.Y.S.) saying that while preparing the fields for spring sports, there was considerable waste on the fields. “It is unfortunate for the folks that have been using it appropriately, but it is not designed to be a dog park,” Wilhelmsen said. Hempel noted that 90 percent of surrounding towns do not allow dogs on their sports fields.
The Committee discussed placing signs around the area alerting residents that dogs will no longer be permitted. Wilhelmsen said the difficult part would be enforcement. “We are not in a position as a School Committee or Peter [Veneto] as an administrator to be enforcing who is on the grounds and who is not, especially after school hours…I think we will need to work with the Selectmen to see if we can engage the Police,” he explained. Regarding the lack of a leash law, Wilhelmsen said, “It is incumbent upon all of us that have dogs to understand and know your dog and be able to make sure that dog is acting appropriately and healthily with everyone that is around.” The School Committee voted to ban dogs from the Dennett grounds. Sanda thanked them saying, “I’m glad it was me and not a kid.”
Committee member Jason Fraser said, “with the help of Rep. LaNatra and her staff, we did trace the path for those fenced off funds which are for the enrollment increases we realized this year. They are supposed to be for fiscal year 22 which is ending June 30… DESE [Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] has some preliminary numbers for us… I don’t think they are official yet… we are supposedly in line for $80,000.” Fraser said that the money could be used to help finish the rubberized surfacing on the new playground at the Dennett.
Wilhelmsen said they plan to have an article at the special town meeting for several purposes. He said there were four classrooms that need floor replacements. Wilhelmsen told the Committee that an upgrade to the intercom system would cost about $35,000. They are also looking to upgrade the building entrances with key fobs. Five HVAC units also need to be replaced but will likely be funded using ARPA funds.
Fraser said the federal government was lapsing on their free meal programs for students for both breakfast and lunch. He said there is currently a bill at the State House called the Free Meals for All Plan. He said that the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) were in support of it. He said it has also been requested that the per pupil minimum increment be changed from $30 to $100. “With inflation wreaking havoc on budgets across the State, $100 just seems a little bit more appropriate,” Fraser explained. He said they were also asking that Circuit Breaker be fully funded. The school loses money from charter school tuitions that are taken directly out of the town’s Chapter 70 funds. “We actually have the ability within Mass General Laws to reach out to all of those students who go to charter schools and send them flyers and brochures of our own, advocating for our schools and the great programs that we have,” he told the Committee. He further said he would like to see the administrative team prepare something to send out.
Hempel provided the CASA update saying they just finished the end of Winter Fest. “I think it was a big success looking at the number of people that went,” she said. She also said that they were looking for volunteers to bring back the talent show.
Dennett Elementary School Principal Peter Veneto said that they currently have 241 students enrolled. The school recently held the honor roll breakfast and any sixth grader on the honor roll was allowed to bring a family member. Veneto said that a former Dennett student, Dan Lyons, who is now a senior also came and spoke to the students about what they can expect at the middle school and high school. Veneto also said that the entire school participated in Read Across America week where students got to wear different themed attire each day. Former student Payton Devonshire is leading a clothing drive for Cradles to Crayons. There will be a box for collections in the lobby of the school as well as at the Police Station. Veneto also said that the Assistant District Attorney recently spoke to fifth and sixth grade students about the dangers of the internet as well as “how to remain safe while online.”
“We also had another really interesting project that we tried for the first time in Grade 6,” Veneto said. He said a Deputy from the Sherriff’s Department introduced a CIA unit kit that students tested in class. “They did fingerprint experiments, footprint analysis, working with unknown powder and liquids,” Veneto explained. He called the program “hugely popular.”
Assistant Superintendent’s Update
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch provided data on a recent professional development day centering around social and emotional learning and anti-bias training. He said that they surveyed teachers and had 228 responses. Eighty-five percent of staff rated the training as either a 1 or a 2 out of 4 with 1 being extremely effective. Lynch also provided an update on ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund). They are using some of the funds for a program that includes visits from an expert to help aid the school improvement plan.
Proulx told the Committee that it was her hope that they would approve the budget that night, so they could have a budget to present to the community. Wilhelmsen said that himself, Proulx, Fraser, and Director of Business Services Christine Healy all met with the Finance Committee to review the budget and the addition of the new director position being added to the budget. “We didn’t get too many questions… but I think overall they were very, very pleased with the budget,” Wilhelmsen said of the Finance Committee. He said there would be no increase in the budget after taking all factors into account. “I think this is a good, strong budget,” he continued. The Committee approved the 2022-2023 elementary school operating budget of $2,767,440, the special education budget of $1,136,022, and the out of district vocational budget of $60,000.