The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met in-person on Thursday, May 12. Paraprofessional Tanya Little asked to address the Committee during the public participation portion of the meeting. “As you know the Silver Lake Education Association [SLEA] and the District are about to begin meeting with a State union leader to try and resolve our contract that ends in June… paraprofessionals work side-by-side with teachers to support special education students both in general and in special education classrooms but we are not limited to this role; we go far beyond – offering social, emotional, and academic assistance to all students… our main focus is to help all students… we are team players,” Little told the Committee. She said paraprofessionals at Silver Lake start at just over $16 an hour while fast food restaurants and retail outlets typically start employees around $17 an hour. Little said that a living wage in the Silver Lake community is estimated at $37,000 a year and noted that paraprofessionals at Silver Lake earn roughly $20,000 a year to start. According to Little, paraprofessionals are the only support staff not to receive pay during the three school vacation weeks each year; custodians, cafeteria workers, etc. all get paid for those vacations. Those in attendance gave Little rousing applause upon completion of her remarks.
Silver Lake Regional Middle School Principal Jim Dupille said that the school recently held a geography bee. “I want to congratulate all that participated in the bee; they should be very proud of their efforts and the hard work that they put in,” he said. He also said that the spring concert and the evening of excellence would both be held in coming weeks. The Farewell Dance for eighth graders will be on June 21 and Field Day will be on June 22.
Dupille also gave the high school update as Principal Michaela Gill was not present. Dupille asked the Committee for approval of a CTE project constructing a private homeowner’s garage. Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee asked if need was considered in the selection process for such projects. Committee member Chris Eklund said that need was not one of the selection criteria. He said that projects were selected for the educational opportunity they present to the students. He also said that they are careful to select projects that might not require perfection as much of the project would be completed by the students. McGee said that she still felt strongly that need should be a qualifier and asked that they table the vote until more information could be ascertained on the selection process. Committee member Jason Fraser interjected that he was very interested in serving on the CTE subcommittee in the future and said that he would entertain the subject of need then. McGee said that she would be voting no, as she did not believe that private homeowner’s projects should not be selected without an evaluation of need. Private homeowners pay for materials but not labor on such projects. Eklund felt that the selection criteria were within the State’s control rather than the Committee’s. The Committee voted in favor of approval on the project.
Dupille said that the high school had a blood drive on May 4 during which they collected 31 units of blood. That qualified the school for a $250 scholarship for a graduating senior and active participant in the blood drive program. The unified track team celebrated their last home meet on May 5 against Carver. “The school and community support has been amazing; many student clubs and activities show up to support our students with banners and pride to help form the best cheer department on the South Shore,” Dupille read. Fraser described the track program saying, “it’s an opportunity for students with special needs along with peer mentors to compete and feel pride in what they do.” Senior prom will be on May 26 in Harwich Port. Graduation will be June 3 at 6 p.m. with a rain date of June 4. Dupille ended his updates with a word of support for the paraprofessionals.
Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent’s Updates
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch said they would be running their second round of the Student Social and Emotional Learning Survey. It will be administered during the school year on June 14. “All parents will receive an email and a copy of every question on May 31 that reminds them of the survey… parents will have the opportunity to opt out if they don’t want their student to participate in the survey,” Lynch said.
Superintendent Jill Proulx also provided an update. Proulx said that COVID testing will continue through the remainder of the school year. Proulx thanked nurse leader Carol Beck for organizing a NARCAN training on May 25 at the middle school. Proulx said that Halifax supported the schools’ budget as well as the tennis court project during their town meeting. She also provided an update on the following year’s calendar and said that August 31 will be the first day of school.
Debate on Religious Holidays on School Calendar
Regarding the calendar, McGee asked that April 7 be labeled a vacation day or move it to April 14 as it is currently a religious holiday, and no other religious holidays are given. Someone argued Christmas is taken off but was corrected and told that it was just considered part of the December break. Committee member Eric Crone said that if a community is predominately one religion and a holiday affiliated with that religion is not given as a day off, there may not be enough students present in school to count as a valid school day. An amendment was made by McGee to change the label of April 7 as a vacation day. The problem arose, however, that Halifax had already voted the school calendar at their committee meeting. Proulx said that many of the school contracts acknowledge and grant April 7 as a paid day off. Schmaling said that changing the labeling of the day could create a rift in the community as people may be offended with removing the label. Committee member Emily Davis said that as a non-Christian person, she was offended that the day is given as Good Friday.
Crone said, “I just want to point out, I’ve been on the elementary school committee for 15-16 years and this one for 6 years, in all those years I’ve never had a single email from anybody about labeling the calendar. The discussions are right here… and this is the only time it is ever discussed; it’s not discussed on social media, in restaurants – it’s not discussed.” Eklund said it was a matter of consistency and no other religious holidays are labeled as such.
“I think it is also an inclusivity thing, we talk in our district goals about inclusivity so to me, relabeling it does not exclude any group – we’re not labeling it with any single group’s religious holiday so while I respect that people find Good Friday to be a deeply important holiday for them and their community, I hope that they would respect that still having the day off but the labeling of it would provide a greater inclusivity to more members of our community that may not share that same religious affiliation,” Davis said. A vote was taken with McGee’s amendment and the results were 6 in favor, 6 against, and 1 person abstaining. They then retook the vote to accept the calendar without the amendment and the results were 7 in favor and 6 against. It passed and the Good Friday label remained.
School Start Times
McGee told the Committee that the school start time working group met on May 22 for their inaugural meeting. She said that the Assistant Superintendent, herself, and Davis spearheaded the meeting. The working group includes members from all three communities, all six schools, and all four school committees. “We had a great discussion, we had whiteboards up around the room on different topics like logistics and family impact and transportation and all these things and people put up all different things and we talked about them all and it was really constructive. We will be putting a meeting summary out,” McGee said. She said that eventually a Google drive will be established with all the materials and will be shared with the community on the school website. Crone pointed out the need to include the athletic director as the timing of sports would be important. “We don’t have an intended outcome other than to present material back to the community on what we learned,” McGee said. Davis reiterated that they are not looking to make the change but rather to assess the impact were the change to be made particularly if required by State mandate.
SLEA President Jon Lay spoke during the reports of standing committees. He said that they are having difficulty filling the paraprofessional positions including two open positions at the high school. Those positions were offered to candidates but turned down due to the low salary. “I do think it has impacts on the District’s ability to attract and retain high quality paraprofessionals.”
Lay also spoke about the Anti-Defamation League’s presentation at the Middle School. “I think what is sometimes getting lost in some of the conversations about this kind of thing is that I think we all want all of our students to have a safe place to be educated; I think that we all value everyone in the community – students and staff, treating everybody with respect and dignity and I just want to say that I appreciate the District’s efforts to advance that and I hope that despite some of the controversy the District will still commit themselves to those values,” Lay said to applause. Previously, Schmaling had been outspoken in her disapproval of the Anti-Defamation League’s involvement in such programs.
Coastal Snap Request
Committee member Jason Fraser asked to speak on the Coastal Snap program which had to shut down temporarily due to COVID. “It’s for young children to have adaptive sports and adaptive day camps with opportunities with peer mentors,” he said of the program for children with special needs. Fraser said that in the past the School Committee had allowed flyers to go out to the high school to solicit students to act as peer mentors for the program and gain community service hours. The Committee approved the flyers.
Fraser also provided the legislative update. “The budget is in the fifth inning of a seven-inning game,” he said of the State budget. He said that regional transportation was funded by $4 million less than the previous fiscal year in the House Ways and Means budget. He said that State Representative Kathy LaNatra, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, went to the Chair of the Committee to file an amendment to fully fund regional transportation. “There is a contingent of reps in the House right now who want to rewrite the formula for transportation funding, and they want to include non-regional districts who drive extraordinary miles,” he said. He went on to say that while he does not think those districts, such as Plymouth, should be begrudged that funding, he doesn’t believe it should come on the backs of districts such as Silver Lake. Fraser went on to say that compared to the Governor’s original estimate, Silver Lake is seeing about $75,000 more in funding from the State. “We also got $115 million from the state of Massachusetts for free meals for all students for next year… I still believe this is a federal responsibility, but the feds are so messed up right now, they are letting the ball drop,” Fraser said. He added that there is an amendment called “kids not red tape” that is trying to extend the federal program for one more year.
Silver Lake Assessment Stabilization Fund Discussion
Fraser said that the regional schools’ budget represented an overall increase of 3.74 percent. Kingston’s assessment was a 2.4 percent increase, Plympton’s was a negative 7.1 percent increase, and Halifax’s assessment was a 5 percent increase. He explained that in a region such as Silver Lake, there are ebbs and flows in what those assessments look like for each town from year to year. He said that he hopes to have legislation filed that would help towns establish an assessment stabilization fund for years when they are facing a high assessment. “You guys authorized me to put forth a resolution to MASC [Massachusetts Association of School Committees] for their conference in November. I had flushed out the language for that and I even created NGL language so if I got a rep and a senator to support it, they could file that exact language and it models the municipal modernization language from 2016 under Chapter 40 for revolving accounts,” Fraser explained. He said that in years where there are excess funds potentially for a town with say a negative assessment, they would be able to put those funds in an account to be accessed in a year where they might have a higher-than-normal assessment. “It would be controlled by the town; it would be established by, in our circumstance, by a two-thirds vote at town meeting and it could then be distributed at subsequent town meetings by town vote,” he said.
Eklund provided an update for SAFER. He said that a lack of turf is becoming an issue as are lack of locker rooms and bathrooms at the far fields. He said that 28 members of the town from various sports groups attended the meeting to let them know what improvements need to be made to the sports’ facilities. He said that the tennis courts were the first piece to really get moving. “If there’s any crypto billionaires living in Indian Pond who want to build the facilities, it is kind of what we need… it sounds like I’m joking, but I’m kind of serious. It’s going to be very tough to get all three towns to agree to pay for something that we need and the scope of what we need is going to be $5 to $10 million,” Crone added. Eklund pointed out that new facilities often need to be ADA compliant which adds to the cost.
Farewell to Two Committee Members
Hatch took time to acknowledge the members of the Committee who were sitting in their final meetings. “I have sat on committees for nearly twenty years and I have met and been exposed to and worked with wonderful members of the community. Honestly, wonderful people – I cannot believe in July I am not going to see you two. You have given so much of your intellect, your time, and quite frankly, your heart to Silver Lake and there are no words to thank you enough for doing that,” Hatch said. “I will desperately miss your counsel and your friendship at the table, but I will continue to call on it from afar,” Fraser said to Crone. To Eklund, Fraser said, “the work you did for the three towns this year – many people have tried to do what you did this year. The level of communication and respect that I heard you deliver to the towns and them deliver back to you on Silver Lake’s behalf was amazing and astounding.” Proulx also thanked Crone and Eklund for their “support,” “kindness,” and “expertise.” Many others also offered their profound thanks during the meeting. Crone and Eklund took time to express their gratefulness to the Committee as well as the administration and staff.