The Plympton School Committee met Monday, April 25. Chair of the Committee Jon Wilhelmsen went over the school’s transfer requests that will be included in a single article during the town meeting. Included among those requests is $13,000 for paving including a pad that will be placed next to the garage building where the dumpsters and the clothing donation bin will sit. A ramp will also be built leading up to the garage. Other items include $38,000 for a new intercom system, $40,000 for new classroom floors, and $27,000 for security upgrades. Even after all the transfers, the school will still be returning approximately $20,000 back to the town.
There was a school choice hearing to determine whether any positions would be opened at the Dennett for school choice. No one opted to speak during the hearing and the Committee voted not to allow school choice. Committee member Jason Fraser cited the historically high enrollment at the Dennett as a reason not to opt into the program. This decision has no bearing on students already enrolled in school choice at the Dennett during previous years. There was, however, some question as to whether students enrolled in school choice that are graduating from the Dennett would be able to continue within Silver Lake at the middle school.
Nutrition Director Megan Ahrenholz said that Kingston resident Ron McAndrews offered to pay off any remaining school lunch debt at the Dennett as well as the other schools in the district. The Committee voted to approve the request.
An update was provided on the new playground at the Dennett. Director of Business Services Christine Healy said she was scheduling a meeting for later in the week with the designer to schedule the rubberized surfacing. “The goal is to have as much of the rubberized surface as possible,” Healy said. She said that several funding sources have become available recently including $83,000 in Chapter 70 funds for enrollment increases. Healy said that they have accounted for everything that they have committed to thus far including the contractor and equipment and still have a remaining $135,000 available, including the Chapter 70 funds, for the surfacing.
Wilhelmsen provided an update on the solar project at the school. He asked for a motion from the Committee to give up their authority over the portion of the Dennett roof that will have solar panels and give it back to the Selectmen during the duration that the panels are on it. The Selectmen have authority over solar in the town. The motion also included the following wording as said by Wilhelmsen, “to vote that the potential lease of portion of said rooftop and the installation of a solar facility on a portion of said rooftop to supply energy needs to the Dennett Elementary School will not interfere with the educational programs being conducted in said building.” The Committee voted to approve the motion.
Fraser provided the legislative update saying, “the House Ways and Means budget came out…they did increase the amount of money that Plympton and Dennett are most likely to see by about another $20,000 mostly as it relates to some charter school mitigation and just how they are addressing the drain on us from charter schools locally.” Fraser also said that the House Ways and Means were including $110 million to go toward a free meal program for students that would begin in September. Currently, the federal program is set to expire though there is a bill at the federal level proposing extending the program through September 2023. Fraser said that the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) believes it should be a federally subsidized program though he noted they appreciated the State providing the funding.
Dennett Principal Peter Veneto provided an update. He said that CASA sponsored a program called, “traditions of Chinese acrobatics” that he described as “absolutely amazing.” CASA is also donating four new soccer nets to the playground. He also said that high school students came to the Dennett to help the elementary school-aged kids create a tape art mural that Veneto said, “takes up the entire main hallway.” Veneto also said that he spent some time with the Plympton Police Department going over ALICE training. He also said that a new music teacher, Kimberly Crawford is set to begin this week.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch provided an update on the Plympton Student Opportunity Act Amendment. Lynch described the intent of the legislation as “helping districts in closing achievement gaps… and adjusting Chapter 70 money to aid in that.” He said that the Student Opportunity Act increases did not happen in 2020-2021 but were available for 2021-2022. The goal is to close gaps as seen in MCAS math and ELA achievement with a focus on low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, and high needs students. One of the ways this will be achieved is through the addition of a coordinator for student support in fy22. This will be in addition to the special education teacher that was added in fy21.
Superintendent Jill Proulx asked the Committee to consider changing the way in which they pay long-term substitutes beginning next school year. “This year it is becoming more and more difficult to find long-term subs,” Proulx said. She also said that long-term substitutes must have a bachelor’s degree and if they are teaching for longer than 90 days they must also be licensed in that subject area. Currently long-term substitutes are paid $95 per day. Proulx said she was hopeful that increasing the pay would make them more competitive in acquiring long term subs. Fraser said that the projections right now indicate a teacher shortage for the next 5 to 10 years. He said he was in favor of the step increase and made a motion to that effect. The Committee voted to approve the increase.
Special Education Director Marie Grable spoke on the Tiered Focus Monitoring Review that focuses on special education as it relates to civil rights. Grable said that 35 of the 36 areas reviewed were found to fall into the implemented category. The only category to fall into the partially implemented category is procedures used to provide services to eligible students enrolled in private school at private expense. Grable said as a result they are required to provide an action plan for correction. An amount of special education funds must be set aside to provide equitable services to these students. There are 4 students from the Silver Lake area attending Sacred Heart and 6 students that are homeschooled. The district must consult with those students’ families and create written and signed affirmation of that consultation.
Wilhelmsen took a moment to formally recognize and thank Amy Hempel for her service on the School Committee as it was the last meeting before elections in May.