The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met virtually on Thursday, Dec. 3. The financial impact of COVID 19 on the district’s budget were discussed as were the continuing need for funding COVID related positions at both the middle and high schools through the end of the school year. CARES Act funding was used to pay for the addition of three building level substitute positions at the high school as well as two long term building substitutes and one long term custodian at the middle school. That funding runs out at the end of December so Silver Lake Regional High School Principal Michaela Gill and Silver Lake Regional Middle School Principal Jim Dupille were seeking approval from the Committee to maintain those positions.
In addition to the three building-based substitutes, Gill said she was also looking to increase the 10-month custodian position at the high school to a 12-month position to assist with sanitizing and other COVID related duties. The building-based substitutes would come at a cost of $12,600 each and the increase in time for the custodial position would be an additional expense of $8,000.
Dupille said he was looking for $47,460 to cover the cost of continuing the two long term building based substitutes and the one long term custodian position. He also said that due to fluctuation between cohorts, the school has had to support some of the students on IEPs in additional classes. As a result, the building-based substitutes have had to take on the role of paraprofessionals in those classrooms. Dupille said he would like to see a paraprofessional hired to free up the substitutes who are needed elsewhere. This request would come with a cost of approximately $11,000.
Committee member Eric Crone said that similar issues were tackled at the Kingston Elementary School meeting and noted that they were looking at savings in other areas of the budget in order to repurpose for the continuation of positions previously funded through the CARES Act. Crone said that it would be difficult to go back to the three towns to get a supplemental budget and Director of Business Services Christine Healy agreed. Committee member Christopher Eklund said that he believed the E and D fund to be their only option.
School Committee member and Halifax Selectmen Gordon Andrews said that since the towns had declared a state of emergency, they can deficit spend and therefore, the schools can ask at the special town meetings in March to amend their budget. Andrews also recommended that Silver Lake Regional vote to declare a state of emergency as the district is considered its own municipality. Assuming approval by an attorney, doing so will be an item on the next meeting’s agenda.
The Committee voted to support the positions totaling approximately $104,344 but decided not to change the budget until March. Healy noted that the school district is different than a town in that the budget is voted as a singular number so the focus doesn’t have to be on individual line items. She said that wish list items may have to be sacrificed in favor of more necessary expenditures like these positions.
Healy told the Committee that back in June, she was told that the region would receive an allotment of $146,000 from a COVID-19 relief funding house bill done under Representative Kathy LaNatra. She said that after receiving approval she was in touch with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to find out about obtaining the funding. The money was designated through representatives and went through the Executive Office for Administration and Finance (EOAF). EOAF apparently believed it was being administered through DESE.
Healy said obtaining the funding was complicated by the fact that Halifax, Kingston, and Plympton were receiving their funding through Plymouth County and not the state. Andrews, however, said that it was his understanding that Plymouth County did not receive all the funds for the County and that some were held back by the state. He said he believed the allotment should be coming from EOAF.
Healy went on to tell the Committee that in late November she received a letter saying that Silver Lake would only be receiving an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) in the amount of $58,000 instead of the house bill allotment of nearly three times as much. Healy said she spoke with Representative LaNatra who is trying to find alternative funding to compensate.
Many of the Committee members expressed their outrage that the schools were not being granted their share of the funds. Crone pointed out that the bill was used in political advertising leading up to the election and said, “It’s completely ridiculous that this is happening right now… I’m just beyond disappointed and annoyed.” Hatch agreed saying, “I’m being polite by saying I’m floored.”
A motion was made to send a letter from the Committee to Plymouth County Treasurer Tom O’Brien as well as another “strongly worded” letter to the Governor and the EOAF secretary. Healy said she believes the issue will get resolved and the schools will see the money that is owed to them.
Special Education Presentation
Administrator of Special Education Marie Grable gave a presentation on the state of special education in the district just as she had done earlier at the most recent Halifax Elementary School Committee meeting. “Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability,” Grable explained. She also described the purpose of special education saying it is “to provide equal access to education for children with disabilities ages 3 through 21.” Programs for Halifax, Kingston, and Plympton include the Developmental Learning Center (DLC) and Pathways, The Structured Learning Center (SLC) or Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC), and the Language Based Learning Center (LBC)
Grable said that the number of students receiving special education services at Silver Lake Regional (grades 7-12) stands at 243 or 15.1 percent for FY21. This number is only slightly increased over what it was in the previous four years and the percentage is below the state average.
Grable explained that out of district placements (ODP) occur when the needs of a student are greater than what can be provided by a school. There are 48 students across Halifax, Kingston, and Plympton currently in ODP. Grable said there were 74 when she first started and said the reduction was a direct result of “the programs that we’ve developed, the enhancements of the services that we’ve been providing over the years, the support of the community members and school committees to really promote and encourage our in-district programming.”
For FY21, ODP tuition for Halifax is $1,857,409 while ODP transportation costs are $473,800, ODP tuition in Plympton is $553,106 and ODP transportation $97,650, and in Kingston ODP tuition is $2,779,011 with ODP transportation coming in at $568,173.
Grable went over the funding sources for the special education services including the state’s Circuit Breaker program which provides reimbursement for a percentage spent over $48,000 per placement. The percentage allocated is dependent on the resources available and the state’s ability to share the wealth with local communities. Anticipated reimbursement for FY20 for Halifax is $598,008, for Kingston $568,173, and for Plympton $67,934.
Other grants include Fund Code 240 in the amount of $974,700 for Silver Lake Regional across Grades 7-12 and Fund Code 262 for preschool aged children in the amount of $7,097. Two grants to return this year for the first time since 2017 include Fund Code 274 in the amount of $14,105 for Silver Lake Regional and $38,209 across all three towns and Fund Code 298 for $2,553 for Silver Lake Regional and $6,352 across all towns.
Grable also said that the special education department is working to establish what forms of recovery and compensation might be needed given the fact that some students may not have had access to necessary services to make progress with their IEP during the closure last spring.
Goals include the possible expansion of the Silver Lake Integrated Preschool since the school is currently at capacity. There is also a plan to open an additional DLC classroom at KIS.
Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee said to Grable, “You walking in our door 5 or 6 years ago was a godsend; you’ve done amazing work.” McGee also advocated for the value of early intervention. She asked Grable to make the basic rights training held by SEPAC available outside of the SEPAC meeting saying she wanted to be sure that parents fully understand what their needs are and what the school offers. Grable said she would make it available as a PowerPoint on the district website.
Superintendent Jill Proulx asked the Committee to take a vote on whether to allow students in substantially separate programs to be able to attend school in-person on Wednesdays. Currently those students are often not able to access services remotely on Wednesdays because of their unique needs. The vote would need to include the Silver Lake staff on both the Kingston and Silver Lake campuses. Crone said, “we were told that quite often those kids are marked absent on Wednesdays.” He also noted that the more that can be done in-person with these students with special needs, the more money can be saved down the road. The Committee voted to allow it.
In addition to the vote to allow certain students access to in-person learning on Wednesdays, Proulx also asked the Committee to vote on whether to eliminate traditional snow days in favor of an additional remote day. Proulx said that the Committee should consider student and staff access to power in the event of a snowstorm. Most of the Committee was in favor of keeping the traditional snow days and voted against the remote learning day. McGee said it was “good to have it in our toolbox if we need to.” She recommended revisiting the vote in February to see how the winter was going.
Proulx also asked the Committee to consider Governor Baker’s November request that communities designated as gray, green, or yellow return students to full, in-person learning where feasible. Proulx explained that the first of the three biggest obstacles to a full, in-person return would be limited bus availability as well as significant cost to expand bus usage. The second is the 6 ft social distancing requirement for lunch as it would be very difficult to maintain that distance and still schedule lunch for all students. The third is the social distancing requirement in general. While 3 ft is an option, 6 ft is still recommended by the CDC and the state. “More students means less social distancing,” Proulx said. She explained that a change in these requirements would likely need to take place prior to Silver Lake considering a return to full, in-person learning. Proulx said that she did, nonetheless, also ask Gill, Dupille, and Healy to access the feasibility.
Jon Lay spoke on behalf of the Silver Lake Education Association (SLEA) thanking the Committee members for their support and asking them not to relax any of the protocols currently in place. He said that Silver Lake had been fortunate to avoid any large outbreaks of the virus thus far and said that while a vaccine is on the horizon, things are likely to get worse before they get better.
Gill told the Committee that she has been having discussions with junior and senior class officers regarding the fate of the junior and senior proms. Both were cancelled last spring. With heavy hearts, a decision was made to cancel the junior prom this year.
Gill called the likelihood of holding a senior prom “slim” but said that they are still investigating possible venues. She said that senior officers are also looking into possible alternatives such as an outdoor red-carpet event. Gill also noted the difficulty of fundraising for both events, even in a normal year and said that a decision may be made in the future to combine the two events.
Gill also said that based on a suggestion by McGee, the senior class president reached out to South Shore Landscaping in Rockland about donating a large boulder to the school. The intent is to allow the senior class an opportunity to paint and decorate it. The hope is for it to become a senior tradition with each class getting to repaint the rock when their turn comes.
Gill said that only 3 percent of families requested a learning model change for the second term. She said that an equal number of families opted to switch from hybrid to remote and remote to hybrid which allowed for very little changes to be made to the schedule or staffing.
Gill also asked the Committee for their opinion on an in-person visit in the spring by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges which was supposed to happen this fall. A self-study is first given with the school grading themselves on various national standards. A team of 6 then come in and determine whether they agree or disagree with the school’s assessment of themselves. The visit would occur from March 7 to March 10. She said the team makes suggestions that help drive things like the school improvement plan and the budget. She said the last visit drove funding for the second assistant principal and the head nurse. While schools don’t have to participate, it is highly encouraged. The Committee agreed to reassess their comfort level with the in-person visit at their January meeting.
Superintendent Jill Proulx told the Committee that on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (M.A.S.S.) she would be presenting two certificates of academic excellence to two graduating seniors. “This award is given to two seniors who have distinguished themselves in the pursuit of excellence during their high school careers,” Proulx said.
Both Sarah D’entremont and Brendan Haas are in the top 5 percent of the graduating class of 2021. D’entremont is a student athlete and a part of the Allied Health program. She won the Patriot League Sportsmanship Award. Haas is a member of the National Honor Society and a member of the math team. In addition to his other accolades, Haas performs charity work for veterans.
Committee Chair Paula Hatch said, “You’re both very accomplished and it sounds like you’ve laid the groundwork for your future so incredibly well and I wish you wonderful things in the months and in the years to come.”