The Plympton Board of Selectmen heard a presentation for a proposed new special education stabilization fund for the Dennett School at their meeting on Monday, June 5. Dennett School Committee members Jon Wilhelmson and Jason Fraser discussed this newly allowed reserve fund with the board.
Wilhelmson and Fraser explained that Section 24 of Chapter 218 of Massachusetts’ Acts of 2016 allow municipalities to establish a savings account for special education. John Wilhelmson said the law limits the amount in the stabilization account to 2% of the school committee’s operating budget. He went on to say, “This is a chance to put away roughly $70,000 (for IEP support).”
Last year, the Dennett school committee was able to return somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 from its operating budget to the town. Wilhelmson emphasized however that the special education line on the budget fluctuates from year to year more than any other part of the budget.
He added that a student requiring an IEP (individualized education plan) could cost equal to and in some cases, more than the estimated $70,000 allotted by this reserve fund. A child or children who need special education services could be added to the school population at any time, which increases the special education budget. Wilhelmson said that this is essentially a fund to help even out unanticipated budgetary situations and help a student who needs it.
According to Jason Fraser, the account has the ability to roll over from year to year, but once the 2% threshold is hit, more money cannot be added to the account. He also said that establishing this fund requires a majority vote from both the school committee and the local legislative body.
The presentation initially said that a Board of Selectmen’s vote would cover the legislative approval. Selectman John Traynor and Town Accountant Barbara Gomez both expressed their beliefs about the legislative body of Plympton in the Annual Town Meeting.
Wilhelmson asked Gomez and the board if it could be established with a special town meeting. Gomez said the fund could be established at a special town meeting, but could not be funded until a vote at next year’s Annual Town Meeting.
Traynor said that the fund seems like a good idea, but the Board will have to look through the details with this being a newly allowed stabilization fund. He also said that with Annual Town Meeting having the largest legislative audience, it’s the appropriate forum for the account to be voted on. Jason Fraser agreed adding, “We have a moral obligation to the children and to the tax payers.”
Goals and Grants
Selectmen continued to explore ways to accomplish goals they’ve set for the rest of 2017. At the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, May 30, the Board established areas they wanted to focus on for the remainder of the year, including: hiring a town administrator, the public safety building project with the new police station, financial management, technology, grants, and volunteerism.
This meeting focused the discussion on the grant aspect. Selectman Traynor told the board that former Selectman Chair Colleen Thompson had referred him to a grantwriting professor at Northeastern University. Traynor said, “I saw her lectures online and she’s the real deal.”
Traynor also mentioned that this professor assigns actual grant projects to her students. The board believes there is potential here to help the town have grants written at low or possibly no cost.
Selectmen Chair Christine Joy said that both the town and students can get something out of a relationship like this. Selectman Mark Russo added, “It’s too good. I love the educational aspect.”
There was some discussion on the Board wanting more regular updates to the town website from other boards and committees. Selectmen John Traynor referred to the state of the website as “embarrassing.”
He said that some boards and committees have not updated their respective sections in over a year. The site includes wrong information about board members and meetings and some information is not updated at all.
The next Board of Selectmen meeting is Monday, June 12, 2017 at 6 p.m. There is expected to be a presentation from a firm regarding the hiring of a town administrator.