The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met on Thursday, Feb. 9. Superintendent Jill Proulx gave a budget presentation for the second round of the budget process. The preliminary budget that was presented at the previous meeting represented a total increase of 3.78 percent. She noted that the School Committee had requested that the Administration provide tiered cuts that show what would need to happen to bring the total increase down to 3 percent and another set of cuts that would be necessary to bring it to 2.75 percent.
Proulx said that technology was reduced by $25,000 and that there was potential to make that up with rural aid. Some equipment including a touch screen for health class, a lifting cage, and copy machines were cut though Proulx noted there was some grant potential there. Cuts were also made to the Middle School/High School maintenance line.
“We had been asked some questions about student-teacher ratios and declining enrollment,” Proulx said of a concern that was raised during the previous meeting. She then turned it over to the Principals. Silver Lake Regional Middle School Principal Becky Couet said that over the last several years, Silver Lake Regional has been within six-tenths of the State average. She said that currently they are right at the State average. Committee member Gordon Laws pointed out that there appears to be consistent growth at the Middle School level but decline at the High School level. Couet also said that current enrollment stands at 532 and next year’s projected enrollment is 562.
At the previous School Committee meeting, there were concerns voiced by members about the lack of access to foreign languages at the Middle School level. According to Couet, 17 students that wished to take a language, did not get the opportunity to take one. “Next fall, it would be closer to 132 students that either wouldn’t have the opportunity to take a language or would not have a choice.” She said that Mass Core says that language should be treated as a core subject. “We used to have three languages in seventh and eighth grade – we were very strong as far as Middle School language programs and now we’re down to two languages and only offered in eighth grade,” the World Language coordinator explained. Silver Lake Regional High School Principal Michaela Gill said that it is typically a requirement at most four-year colleges, that students take two consecutive years of a foreign language.
Principal Michaela Gill told the Committee, “We’ve cut a lot of programs, Tech Ed, Family and Consumer Science, Marketing Management, then on the other side we’ve expanded CTE offerings… but we have cut some core subject areas – Latin, Wellness, ELA, Music and we haven’t really restored those since 2005, 2006 when those cuts started to begin.” She explained the impact that staff cuts would have explaining that science teachers, for example, are only licensed in their area of science and cannot just cover for other science courses were cuts to be made. Regarding staffing cuts Proulx said, “we would be looking at reducing our budget by $235,886. She noted that they didn’t get into specifics for those cuts.
There was discussion about using the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant money. Committee member Jason Fraser said that he wanted to be sure the schools were spending all of those funds that are available for them. “The one thing that gets me a little queasy, is using it for something that is not a one-time budget item such as staff,” Committee Chair Paula Hatch said. Fraser acknowledged that he was also cautious regarding the fiscal cliff but said, “It just makes me sick that tier one has two full-time equivalents and I came to the table tonight to propose adding a world language teacher at the Middle School, so I’m just having difficulty squaring that knowing that we have hundreds of thousands of Federal funds that we need to spend in the next 18 months or so.”
The Committee requested that as many items as possible be removed from the budget for the next round, in the hopes that they could free up as much money as possible for staffing lines. Proulx said, “I just want everyone to be clear, I want the directive to the Principals to be very clear that they are being asked to pull everything out of the budget that could possibly be funded by ESSER… and to pull out even things that are required with the hope that they will be approved by ESSER.”
President of the Silver Lake Education Association (SLEA) Jon Lay spoke thanking the Committee for the robust conversation around the budget and agreeing that he would like to see ESSER funds used aggressively. Lay also addressed negotiations with the paraprofessionals. “I’ll just take a moment to publicly say what our offer on the table is now, so the Committee had offered an additional two steps, two percent higher… we’re asking to make those four percent higher… that increase is very reasonable and the other thing we’re asking for is three paid vacation days,” he said. He pointed out that paraprofessionals are the only school staff that do not get paid over school vacations. He said that they were looking forward to “hashing it out with a mediator.”
Fraser laid out a few policies including one pertaining to who has access to the security cameras on school grounds and for what purposes the footage can be used. He said that one change allowed access to emergency responders during an emergency as designated by the school. He noted that they do not have access to those cameras for general surveillance. He said that Police can only access the footage during an active Police investigation. Fraser said that parents can come into the school to view footage, but he noted that students’ faces will be blurred, and no one can take a copy home.
Fraser said that the majority of the last Policy Subcommittee meeting was centered around educational surveys. He said that they tried to make the language more pro-parent, putting the obligation, instead, on the District. He said that the District must, to the fullest extent, share out the survey questions, etc. before administering to students. He said that per the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), they did not offer an opt-in option for parents, rather than opt-out. Committee member Summer Schmaling pressed a bit as to why DESE would recommend against an opt-in process. Proulx said that there could be grant funding tied to certain types of questionnaires. Poor participation in the surveys could result in a loss of those funds. Schmaling insisted that she felt that the District should not be chasing all grant money available and insisted that surveys should be opt-in only. Committee Chair Paula Hatch asked how many surveys are sent out in an academic year. Proulx said, “maybe one or two.”
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch said, “people found it hard to learn about the opt-out process… typically you want to… give parents the opportunity by sharing all the survey questions, and the information how to opt-out, the timeline, the reminders.” He continued, “I just think logistically with a higher percentage choosing to participate, that it’s sort of easier to manage.”
Couet provided an update on the exploratory curriculum of studies. She said, “I did remove things like Latin, Twenty-first Century Literacy, Literacy in the Digital Age, Language Lab, and Healthology – things that haven’t been run in years, to my knowledge.” She said that some new art and music exploratory courses were added. The Committee voted to accept the updated program of studies.
Gill said she had just one item which was the potential to sponsor an international exchange student during an upcoming school year. “The opportunity for our students to meet someone from somewhere else is fantastic,” Fraser said. The Committee voted to approve it.
Fraser provided the SAFER update. He said that the administrative building they currently have is not ADA compliant and cannot house all of the administrators currently employed by the District. He further said that renovations to the existing building would be nearly $1,000,000 more than new construction. He said that total cost for new construction would be “somewhere around $6 million.”
Regarding the Capital Plan, Fraser said that they managed to get it down to $550,000 down from $1.5 million. “That would include $200,000 for the envelope to continue to work on the water mitigation for the buildings and roofs, this would also include the five doors for the CTE program for the safety issues they are causing… putting in an updated and to-code electrical panel for our metal fab students, and also it would put in the sound system for the theatre here at the High School, we had $60,000 for one of the J.V. baseball fields as well,” Fraser said. He noted that the guidelines for what to include versus what to cut were “safety and equity.”
SLRSC budget has more than $200k in staff cuts