School Committee recap: “Responsible” recommended budget and other school news (Updated)

by beth on February 17, 2015

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Above: The School Committee approved a smaller budget increase for K-8 schools than discussed last month. (Trottier photo by Susan Fitzgerald; remaining images from the schools’ websites)

The Southborough School Committee voted to approve a recommended budget for FY16. The new K-8 budget calls for a 3.49% increase over this year.

School Committee member Marybeth Strickland characterized the budget as “responsible”. The budget of $18,909,000 is $190,000 lower than the preliminary budget presented to the committee last month.

Superintendent Christine Johnson told the committee that it took a lot of decisions “to come in line with expectations of our community”. She said they were able to  keep innovative practices implemented this year while increasing technology.

Some of the highlighted increases were $213K in contractually required staffing increases. Another $111K in staffing is required for English Language Learners, speech therapy and occupational therapy. (Interesting note: Did you know that Southborough ELL students speak over 20 different languages? No wonder Neary Students sang “The Great American Melting Pot” in their musical this month!)

Overall enrollment is dropping as the biggest student population begins to age out of K-8. Changes in enrollment allowed the school to drop the equivilant of 2 full time teachers and 6.6 instructional aides.

But the trend of shrinking enrollment may be less extreme than forecast in the past. Once again, Kindergarten is looking at a small increase this fall. 

Another budget impact is the reimbursements for Special Education being collected this year. The district collects and plans a year in advance so they don’t “get caught” by unpredictable “circuit breaker” changes. This year’s lower reimbursement will be felt in next year’s budget.

The budget still needs to be approved by Town Meeting voters. First, they will face the Advisory Board. Johnson and hold forums for the public.

Other news shared in the school committee include increased facilities expenses this winter. The schools contracted to have snow removed in the paths between Neary and Trottier. (Normally, they have a blower for that sidewalk. But this year’s snow was too extreme for the equipment.) They’ve also had to hire workers to remove snow from the roofs.

On the academic front, this month’s meeting included an update on Finn and Wooward schools from Principal James Randall.

Randall brought the committee up to speed on the Envisions math program adopted last year. The materials are closely aligned with core curriculum. It’s a language heavy, different approach.

Randall championed the short videos that begin every lesson. He pointed out that the early education teachers generally have less training in math than literacy. He likes that the video puts all teachers on the same page.

He also liked that it’s available online to parents. He touted it as especially handy for parents confused by the new math or for a students who miss school.

He also reported on increased reporting in the schools, both required and for improved communication.

Kindergarten teachers had an increased workload as they began to implement new state assessment standards. Those requirements will increase next year. It’s something he believes may expand in the future. (As it stands, the MKEA initiative doesn’t follow student progress into future grades.)

Second grade teachers are piloting a system that records assessment information and notes on students. As an example Randall explained that teachers record students’ reading skill issues. Then the reading specialist can pull a few students with similar skill issues to work with in a group.

Updated (2/18/15 8:15 am): I originally reversed digits in the increase to read a 3.94% increase. It is a 3.49% increase.

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