The Plympton School Committee met in-person onMonday, Feb. 27, for the first time in nearly three years. Previously, meetings had been held virtually.
Superintendent Jill Proulx shared Version Two of the budget with the Committee. Regular day is at 3.13 percent, special education is at 22.24 percent, and the total budget is an increase of 8.56 percent. Committee Chair Jon Wilhelmsen asked which numbers in the budget were down that would likely increase next year. He said he was worried for down the road when laptops or other equipment would need to be replaced. Director of Business Services Christine Healy said that the funding Technology Director Steve Pellowe has received in grant money, would last for several years. Tech, textbooks, and instructional software were the three areas named in the budget as having significant decreases. “We cannot guarantee that that’s going to carry over to another year where it wouldn’t go back up again,” Wilhelmsen said of those areas. Committee member Jason Fraser called the budget “extremely tight” and “fiscally responsible” despite the seemingly large increase. The School Committee voted to approve the 2023-2024 out of district vocational budget of $60,000, the special education budget of 1,388,644, and the regular day operating budget of $2,854,051.
Proulx said that earlier this year they became aware of some problems surrounding the integrated preschool program. She said the main problem is that Silver Lake Regional is a Grade 7 through 12 program and does not include elementary. Wilhelmsen said, “Just so everyone’s clear what programs we are talking about – we are talking about the integrated preschool, which is pre-k, the sort of in-district special ed programs that are K-6… we’re also talking about certain support staff within our budget for our special ed, in-building program.” The State is allowing for a grace period so the district can make necessary changes.
Proulx said that they need to look at a multitude of factors including the need for additional staffing as well as increases to tuition as they look to find the best option for restructuring. Wilhelmsen said that one option would be to fully regionalize the entire district where you would have a single school committee overseeing everything. Proulx explained that an entire grade level could be added to the regional district but noted that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) would not allow for individualized programs such as the special education program, to be added to a district. Fraser asked if they could consider running a collaborative in lieu of the program being added to the district. Proulx explained that it could incur additional costs as staffing would need to be added as it couldn’t be shared. Proulx said that as of right now, they can either fully regionalize or one of the schools could fully absorb the programs. Fraser said that he was not interested in having the discussion surrounding fully regionalizing and Wilhelmsen said he thought that the residents of the three towns would likely feel similarly. “Plenty more to come on that,” Wilhelmsen said of the discussion. Fraser said, “I’m just a little surprised that DESE isn’t working harder to make what we have work considering it is right and good for kids.”
Wilhelmsen said, “Kingston is footing the bill for certain extra work for this program; they’re not being compensated for it. The people are doing the work and they’re doing it because there are students in their building and they would not neglect any student in their building but we’re not (we and Halifax) are not paying any percentage based on our students being in that building for administrative staff, for school psychologist, for nurses, for whatever, and that is something that we need to address regardless.”
Fraser gave an update on two policies. He said, “One has to do with access to our security cameras… it’s basically who is allowed to view our cameras and for what reasons and what rights parents have to any of the footage on cameras, for which circumstances.” He further said that the policy allows for emergency responders to access the cameras during emergencies. Parents are also allowed to come in and view the recordings though he noted that faces of students would be blurred. The second policy has to do with the current policy surrounding student surveys and the rights of parents to be notified when said surveys are given. Fraser said that parents would be given plenty of time to opt-out of surveys and would also be given sample examples of questions.
The Committee dealt with unfinished business. Wilhelmsen said that he met with the Police Chief to discuss putting out a sign to let people know that dogs are prohibited from the fields on the school grounds. Regarding the playground, Director of Business Services Christine Healy said that they will be ready to put the new surfacing down in the spring. Regarding the ongoing solar project at the school, Wilhelmsen said, “giving credit where credit is due, I have to thank the folks at DESE for being incredibly prompt in getting us their approval.” He said that panels should be placed on the backside of the building by April. “Hopefully that will have some incremental impact on our cost for electricity,” he explained.
Wilhelmsen gave an update on Capital Improvement and said that himself, Dennett Elementary School Principal Peter Veneto, and Director of Facilities Matt Durkee met to talk through some of the pressing items for the year ahead. He said there are no excess funds this year so they will need to think about things “a little bit differently.” He said that they will need to pay for a few classroom floors through an article at Town Meeting. He also said that improvements to the roof will likely be paid for with ARPA funds. There is a plan to use Town Properties Committee administrative funds to pay for an infrared study of the Dennett’s roof to determine what next steps need to be taken and what will be the associated costs.
Fraser provided a legislative update. Regarding private special education schools, Fraser said that typically the State governs how much those schools can raise their tuition. He said that they usually see three or four percent increases but that a 14 percent increase was approved for FY24. He said that the Governor would be releasing the House One budget soon but said that it appears that Plympton would be receiving an additional $40,000 in Chapter 70 funds next year. “Special ed Circuit Breaker is fully funded already in this first version of the budget for the year at 75 percent but she also included four times more dollars for extraordinary relief which is not paid back for the year that has already gone by; we can access those funds for the years that we are encumbering those expenses,” Fraser explained. He called it the first inning of a nine-inning budget process but noted that it is looking good for schools so far.
Fraser said that State Representative Kathy LaNatra filed legislation that would increase the special ed reserve fund from two to five percent. “This would, again, allow municipalities to establish a Special Ed reserve fund of up to five percent of net school funding in case they ever face extraordinary special ed costs; we’re at the cusp of that locally.” Wilhelmsen asked if there would ever come a time when the State would just take over special education. “We have had that discussion several times that special ed is the unifier of all school districts across the State. When we find assistance in special ed, it helps urban schools, rural schools, and suburban schools – wealthy districts and poorer districts, all the boats rise together when special ed is addressed … we are still advocating for it to be a ninety percent reimbursement at three times the foundation number,” Fraser explained. He further said that the State wants school districts invested financially so they would likely never take over 100 percent of costs.
Veneto provided a Principal’s report which began with letting the Committee know that enrollment stands at 240 students currently. He told the Committee that no one has applied for the open School Psychologist position saying it was a problem for many districts right now. He said that three people interviewed for a building substitute position but all three took other jobs. In a more positive update, Veneto said that the school is celebrating Read Across America.
Fraser told the Committee that the Governor’s press release on her budget was “a little bit nebulous about some language changes that the State’s going to be putting into this year’s budget to lessen restrictions on ESSER dollars from the State perspective to allow school districts to spend down those moneys before they sunset in a more fluid way.” Esser refers to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds that were issued to schools as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Superintendent Jill Proulx provided an update on students attending private, parochial, and charter schools. She said that Plympton has gone down from an all-time high of seven students to just two students this year. She said that overall students in the three communities attending private, parochial, or charter schools is actually up despite Plympton’s numbers falling. Proulx also said that one student in Plympton is utilizing school choice.
CLINTON, NY–Caitlyn Smith, of Kingston, has been named to the Dean’s List at Hamilton College for the 2022 fall semester.
To be named to the Dean’s List, a student must have carried a course load of four or more graded credits throughout the semester and earned an average of 3.5 or above on a 4.0 scale.
Smith, a senior majoring in history and religious studies, is a graduate of Silver Lake Regional High School.