The Plympton School Committee Monday night postponed their budget vote until their next meeting Monday, April 26, giving the committee additional time to gather more information on possible budget offsets and additional funding that may become available. The committee also wanted to research accommodating the additional position of building substitute, a full–time substitute teacher who would be available throughout the school year. The cost for this position is about $27,000, without taking into consideration the offset in the substitute teacher’s budget line to lessen the expense.
Dennett School Principal Peter Veneto reported that the first day of full in-person learning went very well. “Our plan became a reality today … No remote learners … everybody came back today. ” He said that they were able to execute their five lunch period schedule, keeping students the required six feet apart at lunch. The only additional cost was the purchase of some 50 folding tables that post-COVID can be repurposed in a number of ways. Pick up and drop off lines were long but executed safely. “I saw a lot of really happy kids today. No need to change what we’re doing right now.”
Chairman Jon Wilhelmsen noted, “It’s great that we were able to put a plan together. It’s much easier to run the school this way with all the kids under one roof. “ Wilhelmsen thanked everyone who helped get it done – in the course of nine days! It is the goal to keep everyone safe and in school for the rest of the school year.
Christine Healy, the financial guru of Silver Lake reported that everything looks good as far as the current year’s budget goes, no accounts in danger of being overdrawn, and things are running smoothly.
Jason Fraser gave his report on education legislation, saying that the governor’s first draft of the budget was trying to use Oct. 1, 2020 pupil counts on which to base school reimbursements. With COVID, statewide there was a 3.3% drop in student population. Fraser said that he spoke with Rep. Kathy LaNatra about allowing schools to use the 2019 student count as the basis for budgeting this year. LaNatra instead wanted to “fence off” funds until accurate numbers can be had in October 2021. If there is an increase, then those fenced off funds can be accessed.
As for COVID 19 updates, Fraser said that there has been no change in guidance. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, (DESE) has said that three to six feet of distance is acceptable. While 192 school systems chose six feet, only 49 school systems chose three feet distancing. The CDC is comparing the data for COVID transmission between the two protocols and has seen no significant increase in COVID transmission. Two-ply masks are still required, but Dennett already requires them.
Rep. LaNatra signed onto House Docket #2548 to form a statewide commission to look at the sleep needs of students and getting elementary school students to school earlier, and allow secondary school students to start a little bit later so that the time that they have in school will be that much more efficiently used.
Wilhelmsen said that the first capital plan item on the budget is a fire suppression system at a cost of $9,000 or less. “This can’t be postponed.” He also reached out to see if they could include an item on the warrant for the parking lot at the Dennett to be repaired. “The driveway is at a critical point where if we don’t do some maintenance, we will have to replace it.”
The playground construction is on the horizon and with the proximity of the playground to the septic system, it makes sense to look into its health. Fraser said he wanted to be able to make use of anticipated infrastructure grants should they become available. Fraser asked if the septic system had been evaluated and Veneto answered, “the short answer is no.” Wilhelmsen said that this must to go in as one of the overall school needs. “Maintain, rather than fixing things that break. It is more expensive to fix things that break.” Veneto will reach out to his building superintendent to get that assessment done.
Fraser reported on the status of the playground project, telling the board that he originally approached 2019 Town Meeting for some assistance in building an ADA approved playground on the Dennett. When Plympton started getting students through school choice, those funds were sequestered for one-time expenditures and not made part of the operating budget. Outside of a few expenditures for the water treatment equipment and a few other items, the school choice tuitions are largely intact and can be used to fund part of the playground costs. The total price is estimated to be about $250,000, to $300,000 project and none of that money will be funded through the school’s operating budget. The structures will include a Rocket Swing that will accommodate a mobility-challenged child in a wheelchair, and a soft rubber footing that will also allow a child in a wheel chair to be able to navigate the playground and be with their peers. They made adjustments to the playground to make it ADA Plus, building ramps onto the structures, and got a surface level merry go round that is wheel chair accessible, at an additional $37,000 cost. “We talked about this in depth and the committee agreed to move forward with this idea,” Fraser said
“Right now we’re soliciting quotes,” Healy said, preparing to send it off to three or four vendors on the state’s contractor list. The next step is going out to the traditional bid for the installation of the playground, as well as the rubberized safety surface. It was suggested that fencing wait until the playground is installed to see how the area works. Our hope is to be out to bid Patriots Day week.
Wilhelmsen said that the committee would be able to see all of the details at the June meeting and vote on the project once they have all the information.
The dinosaur has been a topic of conversation, Fraser said. there have been a couple of people who have approached them about keeping the dinosaur. The playground vendors’ advice was to take all the equipment there and turn it into scrap metal. Once the new equipment was beginning to be installed, any accident on the old equipment would not be covered by insurance.
Superintendent Dr. Jill Proulx told the board that the preliminary regular day budget stands at a 6.2% increase, and the total school budget is 2.9% increase. Wilhelmsen said, “Overall I think the budget is very lean and of course last year we had to keep a 1.6% overall increase. I’m not sure even in the best year we’ve ever come down that low.“
One of the issues we run into each year when we vote our budget is that we vote before April 1 and end up with a certain number of placeholders in the warrant. Given that we haven’t met with FinCom yet ,,, it may be worthwhile for us to consider not voting the budget tonight, to talk through any other open issues and then after we have some numbers for April 1 we can make adjustments as needed.”
The next school committee meeting is Monday, April 26.