The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met in-person on Thursday, Dec. 8. Committee Chair Paula Hatch led things off by opening the well-attended meeting for public participation. The first resident who asked to speak said she was currently from Plympton but formerly from Kingston and now has two students at the High School. She said that a little over a year after her son’s autism diagnosis, he entered the preschool in Kingston. “I was terrified that he wouldn’t get what he needed… every single year for 12 years now leading up to his next IEP meeting… I worry about getting him what he needs to be successful during the school day. This is where the paraprofessionals come in… they make it possible for students needing extra support to be successful – this is everything, everything to a parent,” she told the Committee. She said that while paraprofessionals aren’t the ones who write the IEPs, they are the ones that execute them. Regarding the shortage of paraprofessionals she said, “when a person cannot earn a living wage at their job, then they are forced to leave that job… we have to be better than this, we will lose good people.” She told the Committee that the paraprofessionals at Silver Lake are paid less money than her 17-year-old can earn at many retail jobs. The full house gave her rousing applause following the completion of her remarks.
“I don’t want anyone to think that this Committee has not tried to come up with a fair proposal for the paras. We’ve worked over a year trying to come up with a fair proposal and thought that we had found one,” Hatch said before noting that it failed during ratification. “We do, do research to see where the salaries currently fall,” she continued.
The next resident that spoke said she was a Laker herself and currently has three children in the school district, two of which she said have significant special needs. She said that she fought to bring her daughter back to the Middle School after an out-of-district placement. Her daughter was brought back to Silver Lake during the height of the 2020 pandemic she noted. “It was the paraprofessionals that offered so much extra support particularly during those Wednesday half days; teachers went above and beyond the contract,” she explained. She continued, “Then at the end of that year in June of 2021, the very last moments of that school year that we survived was a fundamental change to the way that our school system is structured and that is that they eliminated the CP2 leveling… so when I fought to bring her back to Silver Lake that was the model that I had in mind because I see how wonderful it works. She struggled so much last year.” She said that her daughter ended up out-of- district again but noted that she once again fought to bring her back to Silver Lake. “It is because of these para support professionals that my child is making progress, significant gains. I couldn’t be more pleased. And I find it absolutely insulting that there is this discussion that we are not giving them a living wage and I also find it insulting to insinuate that the people in here do not understand how budgets work,” she told the Committee. Before closing she said, “I want to reiterate the point that if we do not find the pennies to give these paras what they need then there will be more students who need out-of- district placements… moreover we are losing to charter schools.”
President of the Silver Lake Education Association Jon Lay spoke next calling some of Hatch’s statements misleading. “We brought an analysis to the School Committee that showed conclusively that Silver Lake is underpaying our paraprofessionals compared to the local districts.” Lay said that if Hatch had information that contradicted that, he said he would like to see it. He further said he hoped it included health insurance as he said it was a very big part of it. “Even if we may be the average, and we don’t think that we are, it doesn’t change the fact that paras can go to other districts today and get paid more on day one,” he told the Committee. Hatch spoke up and said, “there’s one thing I don’t do, I don’t lie.” She continued, “we make decisions based on data and research.” Later in the meeting, Lay did clarify that he did not believe that the School Committee or any of its members were lying.
Other residents wanted to speak but Hatch said she was limiting the public participation portion to just 15 minutes as she stated at the outset. After objections from those in attendance, Hatch agreed to give two more people a chance to make comments asking them to be “concise.” Someone asked about the negotiations process and the SLEA’s hard position. Lay said that the Committee is looking to resort to fact finding where an impartial third party would be brought in to make a recommendation for resolution. Of their original request, Lay said, “we had been asking for four percent… at one point in the process we had been asking for vacation days – five paid vacation days because right now they don’t get any.” “The initial offer totaled a half a million dollars,” Hatch added.
Plympton resident, Janeen Orcutt, spoke last. She said she taught in Halifax for 31 years before retiring. “I know as a teacher the importance of a para in my classroom for an inclusion classroom for every student there … and I think that when you say that the pay isn’t there, that it is comparable … two of my best paras left the system and went to another system where they’re getting paid for vacation, they’re getting paid for sick time and they got a raise in their pay… you’re going to lose good people,” she said. She concluded saying, “I never speak at meetings. This is so out of my wheelhouse, but I’m so hurt by the School Committee from a system that my kids went to, a system that my kids work in, to see we don’t take care of our paras. It’s shameful.” She also noted that many of the paras hold bachelor’s degrees or higher. She was also met with rousing applause.
Silver Lake Regional Principal Michaela Gill was unable to attend the meeting so Middle School Principal Becky Couet provided the Principal’s Report. She said that over half of the students were on honor roll during the first term. She also said that the Middle School production of Aladdin was that weekend and described it as “amazing.”
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch also provided an update saying, “On Nov. 8, staff met by department to have collaborative time to design curriculum units… there are four professional development days over the course of the school year.” Superintendent Jill Proulx began her update by saying that there was a change to Massachusetts State law that added more steps that must be taken prior to suspension of students. She said that the administration team participated in a legal training pertaining to the change. Proulx said that the exemptions from the change include assault, possession of weapons, or the distribution of controlled substances. Committee member Jason Fraser noted that the change was an attempt to “try and stem the school to prison pipeline… a lot of the zero tolerance policies that were enacted in the 1990’s were suspending kids for non-violent infractions, non-drug related infractions. The more often a child becomes suspended from school, the higher likelihood that they are going to become court-involved and a larger portion of them incarcerated at some point in their lives.”
Proulx was asked about the influx of students coming into the district following the placement of migrant families in Kingston hotels in late October. She said the High School has two new students and the Middle School has three new students. Proulx said they were contacted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education who said they may become eligible for a grant for up to $1,000 per student. “Sadly, it shouldn’t be a grant, the money should just follow where the students were brought into… there shouldn’t be any application process, there shouldn’t be any heavy lifting or light lifting on our shoulders,” Hatch said.
A report was given for each of the standing committees. Fraser provided the update for Administrative Review saying he would be reaching out to Proulx to start informal discussions for the Superintendent’s Review. Lukasz Kowalski gave the update for CTE saying that they have 22 students enrolled in a program where they work outside. He also said that the carpentry students built bookcases for the children’s room at the Plympton Library, trail kiosks for Kingston’s Conservation Department, picnic tables and a storage building for the Kingston Recreation Department, sandwich boards for the Kingston Garden Club, and storage boxes and picnic tables for the Pembroke Library. Kowalski also asked for the support of the Committee in opening a new CTE program in the school for IT. The Committee voted unanimously to support the motion. Proulx clarified that the soonest the new program could be rolled out would be FY 2025.
Fraser provided the Legislative Agent’s Report. “So, we had the gubernatorial election this year which means that the first version of the State budget could be delayed until early February. It will be House One this year as we are also entering into a new two-year legislative cycle so all bills that weren’t passed during the last legislative cycle have been referred to Committee… so currently there’s a blank slate. A slew of bills will be filed on January 3 when the next legislature is sworn in and takes their seats… so I’m currently guiding our State Representatives and Senators as to what bills they should be re-filing or supporting if they come back onto the table that would support our mission here at Silver Lake,” Fraser told the Committee. He also said that they had unanimous support from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) for their Regional School Assessment Stabilization Fund which would be under Chapter 40 and controlled by the town. “It would give a vehicle for municipalities in years where their assessment is lower than normal to put some of those dollars away for years where they might be hit with a higher assessment,” Fraser explained.
Fraser also provided the update for SAFER. “We had a successful tri-town meeting… we went over the Capital Plan for next year… our Capital Plan for FY24 is at $1.5 million and typically our Capital Plan, over the past 8 years or so, has hovered somewhere between $500,000 and $800,000.” He said that HVAC units for the High School as well as roof improvements account for over a half million dollars. Fraser also said that there was also $250,000 included to conduct survey work for turf fields or an athletic complex.