The budget for the Silver Lake Regional schools were voted on by the Silver Lake Regional School Committee during their Thursday, March 12 meeting. Superintendent Jill Proulx began the budget discussion saying that before former superintendent Joy Blackwood even introduced version one she had already made $107,000 worth of cuts at the high school level and another $60,000 at the middle school level. Additionally, there was no replacement for a retiring high school aide.
The most recent version of the budget includes cuts in the form of two teaching positions at the middle school. Committee chair Jason Fraser said that he had received a letter from the president of the Silver Lake Educator’s Association (SLEA) stating that they were, “sad, shocked, and disappointed that the committee didn’t speak more about the budget at our last meeting specifically to the fact that the budget as presented included a reduction of two teaching staff members from the middle school.” Fraser apologized if it felt that the topic was glazed over at the prior meeting and said that it would be discussed during the current meeting.
Proulx offered several suggestions for additional cuts including $1,400 for teaching supplies, $1,500 from the library line item, $1,200 from AV, $1,000 for worn out band equipment, $4,000 for new ELA texts, and $2,000 from transportation for events such as music festivals. Proulx also offered the possibility of only offering late buses on two, rather than three days of the week. “The reality is that as you get to some of these categories, there are no good options,” Proulx explained. After some discussion, Fraser made a motion not to accept any of the additional cuts and the committee agreed unanimously.
Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee asked Proulx if they considered any administrative cuts. Proulx said that they did explore the possibility of cutting one position from a 12-month to a 10-month position but were advised against doing so as it was not in the current contract. McGee addressed Kingston’s high assessment saying, “I just don’t see how this is going to happen. I think we need to dig a little deeper, especially on the administrative side maybe.”
Fraser said that during the tri-town finance meeting that was held previously, Halifax made it known how difficult the budget would be for the town while also expressing concern about sustaining these increases into the future. “The goal is always to get all three towns to support our budget even though we can do it with two,” Fraser told the other committee members and school administrators. Fraser said that given the concerns over the number, he couldn’t see how it would be possible to proceed with putting the two teaching positions back into the budget.
Another ongoing issue of concern for Halifax is the proposed mechanism for paying for a part-time school resource officer at the middle school. Halifax has maintained since voting their share of the cost of the position down at town meeting last year, that they believe the position should be in the school budget rather than voted on as a warrant article. “It doesn’t belong in the budget. We have to get Halifax past this issue somehow,” Committee member and Halifax resident Paula Hatch said.
Fraser opened the budget discussion to public participation, but no one elected to speak to it. Fraser also asked the committee if anyone had any desire to either lower the number or add anything back into the budget before proceeding with a vote. The committee unanimously voted for the fiscal year 2020-2021 Silver Lake Regional Schools’ operating budget of $26,698,578. They also unanimously voted the fiscal year 2020-2021 construction budget of $1,515,905 and $766,250 Excess and Deficiency (E&D) funds to fund the 2020-2021 capital plan. The acceptance of the assessments as presented was the only vote not to receive unanimous support, with one vote against. The regional agreement identifies the statutory method as the method used to compute the assessments. The overall increase as voted on was 2.72 percent.
Fraser took time during the meeting to recognize Kingston Fire Chief Mark Douglass for his superior response during the hazmat situation that took place at the high school on Friday, February 7. The committee extended a hearty applause for Douglass. “One thing that I need to make a very clear point on is you don’t do this alone; this requires an enormous amount of help and that help comes from all different areas… specifically the school nurse was absolutely fantastic in handling and managing it,” Douglass said. Regarding the cause of the incident, Douglass said, “There is some degree of, I don’t want to say certainty, but suspicion that it could have been a vape pen.” Douglass said that should they find out the exact cause, they would be sure to pass the information along.
Student Opportunity Act Discussed
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch presented on the Student Opportunity Act. Lynch explained that in order to receive their portion of the funding, they would have to submit paperwork demonstrating the ways in which the funding would be spent by the district to close student opportunity or achievement gaps. According to Lynch, Silver Lake received minimal funding with 85 percent of new funding going to just 37 of 351 districts in the commonwealth. “In a district where we’re not receiving a significant amount of new funding, ours really focuses on the overlap between our current plan and what we’re trying to deepen as opposed to adopting lots of new staff or new programs,” Lynch explained. The population identified as needing additional support to close the gap at Silver Lake include both students with disabilities and students that qualify for Title 1 services.
Lynch said that the plan places a focus on engagement opportunities for families. A meet and greet was originally scheduled for parents to speak with both Proulx and Lynch prior to the concerns over the coronavirus. A survey will, however, go out to all families and will be translated into the language spoken within that home.
New Vape Deviation Program Proposed
Silver Lake Regional High School principal Michaela Gill introduced several staff members who are the backbone of a proposed, new vape deviation program. That staff include assistant principal Katherine Pratt, School Resource Officer Richard Allen, school nurse Penny Svenson, guidance counselor Andrea Cranshaw, school adjustment counselor Leah Wilkinson, wellness teachers Julie Warnock and Marlene Lopes, and Spanish teacher Jessica Drew. Unlike the current discipline-based approach, the LEAP (Laker Education Action Prevention) program would be education-based and would hopefully empower students to make healthy choices.
It is a five-week course and students must enter into a contract in which they agree to complete all five weeks. The program begins with a meeting with the assistant principal and then each week will cover a different topic with a different staff member. During week one, students would discuss the health effects of addiction with the school nurse. Week two would cover the social emotional aspects of addiction and mental health and would be led by a school adjustment counselor. Week three would cover the legal consequences and would include a meeting with the school resource officer. Week four would be a discussion of the ways in which media and marketing have contributed to the rise in use by adolescents. Students would have some flexibility during this week to choose a staff member to work with that they might have an established relationship with. The final week would be dedicated to planning for the future including setting goals and would involve either a guidance counselor or the assistant principal. Students will complete several assignments each week including readings or short videos. Upon completion of the program, students will receive a certificate.
In addition to the proposal, student members of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) have been working on solutions to the vaping problem as well with ideas such as a school-wide pledge. Students in the Allied Health program at the high school have also been working on a number of initiatives.
Credit for Life Fair a Success
Gill also spoke about the first annual Credit for Life Fair which took place recently at the high school. “Our students had the opportunity to learn how to balance a budget, make financial decisions, and experience what real life financial management is like,” Gill explained. Each student attending the fair was given a career, a salary, and a credit score. Booths were setup with volunteers who helped guide the students. “Our hope with the activity was that afterward our students would have a better perspective on financial management and that they left feeling better prepared for an independent and financially responsible future,” Gill said.
Students Earn Recognition at METG
On February 29 several Silver Lake students participated in the one act Massachusetts Educational Theatre Guild (METG) Competition. Eight of the students were independently recognized by the judges. Liz Croteau received an award for Excellence in Stage Management and Technical Direction, Caitlyn Beckwith received an All-Star Award for Lead Acting, Toni Mello received an All-Star Award for Supporting Actor, Keira Nagle received an All-Star Award for Ensemble Acting, and Ava O’Connor, Allyson Peta, Kerry Driscoll, and Sarah Anderson all received All-Star Awards for Stage Design. Gill also thanked teachers and METG advisors Ashley Ferrara, Kim Orcutt, and JennyLyn Berry.
Cancellations Over COVID-19
Middle school principal James Dupille told the committee that the out of state field trip in May to Kennedy Space Center would have to be cancelled. Dupille asked permission from the committee to reschedule the trip for next year without assigning a date for the rescheduling. The committee agreed. Dupille also said that the Grade 6 parent orientation will be handled virtually as a power point narrated by himself and others until a makeup date could be scheduled.
Dupille informed the committee that a number of students were selected to participate in the Junior District Music Festival that was now cancelled due to coronavirus concerns. “Please let them know that we’re proud of them nonetheless for making it to that level with their music.” Fraser said.