The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met in-person on Thursday, Jan. 12. Committee Chair Paula Hatch began the meeting with a moment of silence for twelfth grade student Aiden Ramsey, who passed away during the winter break. “Our hearts and our prayers go out to his family,” Hatch said. Committee member Summer Schmaling thanked the administrative team for the things that they did to support the students in the wake of the tragedy.
The Committee members welcomed new member Laurie Casna who replaced Emily Davis. The Committee reorganized and Jason Fraser nominated Chris Eklund to serve as the Vice Chair.
Preliminary Budget Presentation
Superintendent Jill Proulx put on a presentation for the Committee regarding the FY24 budget for Silver Lake. She said that input was received from the building principals as well as various directors including the Administrator of Special Needs and the Technology Director. The increase represents 3.78 percent or $1,068,915 over the previous year’s budget. Special education transportation was an increase of just over 14 percent. Proulx said that the budget includes 2.5 retirements. She said that any potential changes to shared costs were not yet included in the preliminary budget.
Silver Lake Regional High School Principal Michaela Gill addressed notable increases and decreases in her requests. She said that unlike in previous years, the freshman orientation would be its own line rather than being included in professional development. She said that the Guidance Department would also represent an increase to account for translation and interpretation needs. Transportation would be going up in part due to rising costs. Gill noticed a “giant jump” in athletics but said that it is due to the trainer being included there rather than elsewhere in the budget. She said that an updated kiln would need to be purchased for the Art Department and a modular computer for wellness classes. A new lifting cage as well as other equipment will need to be replaced as well. In addition to the retirements, she also noted that staffing-wise, the second allied health teacher will now need to be fully funded in the budget.
Requests at the Middle School included new copy machines as well new PE equipment. Principal Becky Couet said that they have a 0.5 adjustment counselor currently, but she would like to see the position fully-funded and is therefore asking for another 0.5. “Our students with social and emotional exceptionalities don’t have outbursts or need to be regulated half the time,” Couet said. She said that she is also asking for a special educator position. Finally, she said she would like to have an exploratory seventh grade program where students would be exposed to every elective before choosing to specialize in eighth grade.
Proulx said that the two items that are not in the budget are the two staffing requests. She said the first of which would come out of the revolving account while the second two items would represent $132,000.
Schmaling asked Couet if Silver Lake had the capacity to offer a foreign language to all eighth graders and was told they do not. Committee member Jason Fraser said that he was “trying to lend to the alarm bell” by pointing out that most other middle schools on the South Shore offer two full years of a language while Silver Lake cannot even offer one to all students.
Committee member Gordon Laws noted that residents could ask why student head count has been decreasing each year while the budget has continued to increase when the money is tied to that head count. He pointed out that it becomes a question for a financially strained town like Halifax, in particular. “I think getting some particulars around where we’ve been historically and what we’re looking to do would be useful. I don’t personally have a huge issue with the budget as presented but I just know that that is the sort of thing that comes back,” Laws said.
Fraser said that some of the long-term Committee members will likely remember the push for social and emotional supports even in the years prior to the pandemic due to things like the advent of social media. He noted that the increases to pay for those things falls on the shoulders of the Committee as well as the administration. He acknowledged Laws’ point that it can be difficult to explain those things to someone who is just comparing enrollment numbers to budgetary increases. “I’m just asking for more understanding and detail and it’s not to call anybody out or anything like that,” Laws said. He said he is looking to answer to questions that will be raised, particularly at Halifax’s Town Meeting.
“The sustainability of the Silver Lake budget has been brought up year after year after year… we do need to be very cognizant of our budget and what budget we present to the town every year; I agree we need to look… at how student population dovetails to the staffing, not necessarily to make a change, but as Gordon said, evaluate it and make sure it is reasonable.” She said that it is necessary to be able to defend the budget at the town meetings. Hatch asked the administrative team to come to the next meeting with some of the information requested regarding rising costs and diminishing student population. She also said that a 3.78 percent increase is too high. Laws said that he couldn’t justify that number in the era of inflation, again, particularly for a town like Halifax and requested seeing a number that was a full percent lower. Hatch recommended that the team show the Committee what would have to be given up to get to a number closer to 2.75. She further suggested that the cuts be presented as tiers as has been done in years prior.
The President of the Silver Lake Education Association Jon Lay spoke during the report of standing committees. He touched upon some of the things discussed during the budget presentation, jokingly calling himself a “Silver Lake historian” saying he was in the Middle School in 1992. He noted that foreign language was offered even back then. He also said that special education teachers were feeling the strain of too high caseloads. He also addressed the concerns about rising budgets and reduced enrollment saying that the student to staff ratio was at or just below the State average.
School Calendar Presentation
Proulx also presented the school calendar for next year to the Committee. The first day of school is scheduled for August 30 and the last day, without any snow days, is June 12. Eklund brought up the much-debated topic of including Good Friday on the calendar when other religious holidays are not listed as such. Hatch said that she looked at other local districts and did see that they do list Good Friday in the same way. Eklund suggested holding school on that day and there was some debate on the matter including a Committee member mentioning that most services on that day are held after school hours. The Committee did, however, vote to approve the calendar as presented which did include Good Friday as a day off.
Capital Plan Discussion
Fraser spoke to the Capital Plan calling it a preliminary draft and noting that it was at $1.5 million. “We’ve never had an intention as a Sub Committee to bring this to the table for a vote at that number,” he explained. He said that $800,000 or $900,000 was closer to the number that was voted on during past years. He opened it for discussion with the entire Committee.
Eklund addressed the Admin. building saying that they have had to make constant repairs to it in recent years. “We’ve looked into doing a new Admin. building in the past… we’ve done studies… it’s been unfunded,” he explained. Eklund explained that the cost of the repairs, and an eventual new building, is the responsibility of the three towns and Silver Lake Regional. He noted that Silver Lake has been paying for the repairs thus far.
Fraser told the Committee that at one point they were looking at an $8 million roof replacement plan but said they have managed to get the roofs back to a place where they are, again, under warranty. He said that the $200,000 in the Capital Plan has been the standard allocation to deal with water infiltration in the roofs over the last seven years. He said that one of the largest costs is $300,000 for two large HVAC units on the roofs of the buildings.
“One of the things we discussed in large conversations with the three towns… is potentially putting in a turf field and doing some sort of athletic complex here at Silver Lake when our debt falls off… in ’27… so we’re rapidly approaching when our debt is going to fall off these two buildings and our accounting to the towns,” Fraser said. He noted that the $200,000 in the Capital Plan for an updated track could be absorbed into that cost instead.
The Committee decided to remove the $250,000 placeholder for turf fields as well as a new scoreboard. Hatch said, “my mind always goes to safety.” She went on to say that the doors in the CTE wing posed a safety risk and therefore she was “hesitant” to remove them. Fraser explained that it was a safety concern from the perspective of access to entryways to the school as well. The HVAC units and the CTE doors total approximately $481,000.
The Committee discussed which smaller costs to keep in the Capital Plan as well as exploring other potential funding sources for some of the items such as articles at Town Meeting.
Superintendent Jill Proulx asked the Committee to consider raising the substitute teacher rate to $107 per day up from $95. She said that the increase was necessary to be in-line with an increase in the minimum wage. The Committee voted unanimously to increase the rate.
Gill began her update by turning things over to the Student Council Representative who told the Committee about Homecoming as well as School Spirit Week. Gill said that the Committee members had a handout that went out to parents of eighth graders as well as parents whose children homeschool or attend charter schools. She said it included save the dates for events such as the CTE Open House. There was some discussion amongst the Committee regarding receiving a similar handout in the mail from Rising Tide Charter School. Hatch said she would like to see some of the school’s achievements highlighted such as the strength of their music program.
Gill also told the Committee that she had three field trip requests for the Committee. The first was for a CTE program to attend a large, construction conference at the Aladdin Center in Providence. The second was for the Girls’ Varsity Basketball program to attend a Division 1 college game, also in Providence. The third request was for two student who qualified to attend a music festival in Rochester, NY. The Committee voted to approve all three.
Finally, Gill provided some program of study updates. She said there were two minor proposals this year with the first being an adjustment to the Sociology course. She said that it would be reduced from a full-year to a single semester course. She said that the reduction would make room for a new Criminal Justice course.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch provided a brief update. He said that a student survey which “checks in on students’ learning needs as well as the progress with the social and emotional learning curriculum” would be administered soon in Grades 6-12. Parents are provided with a link to the questions asked as well as the option to opt-out for their students.
Fraser spoke as the Legislative Agent saying that Representative Kathy LaNatra has agreed to sponsor a bill to allow for a regional assessment stabilization fund. This would allow for towns to create a fund in a year where their assessment is low to be used when the assessment is high. He said that they are also exploring adjusting the Circuit Breaker assessments so that they receive more money back as a reimbursement. Fraser also said that they are pushing for an expansion of the Federal Perkins Act so that students can continue to access CTE programming as close as possible to their home district.