Budget presentations from building and administrative leaders were on the Hopkinton School Committee meeting agenda on Thursday.
On behalf of the high school, Principal Evan Bishop outlined some of the areas contributing to a proposed 5.6 percent increase in the fiscal year 2024 budget.
He’s requesting the addition of a media specialist to work in the library at a cost of $72,053. Bishop noted that the school currently does not have a librarian. The area is staffed by a paraprofessional.
With the addition of “a beautiful new space,” there are a lot of opportunities for learning that could be implemented there, he said.
Additionally, the budget calls for the addition of a 12-month guidance secretary. Bishop explained that there currently are two 10-month guidance secretary positions. One of those would be cut if the measure is approved.
Someone is needed over the summer months to work on scheduling, transfer students, transcript requests and other business, he said. “For a school our size, it is only appropriate to have a 12-month position.”
Other personnel he is seeking includes 2.2 positions at $172,774 to cover increased enrollment next year as well as 1.2 positions costing $86,484 to be placed across different departments to address large class sizes.
On the expense side, Bishop noted that of 34 non-payroll accounts, 19 are either level-funded or show decreases. The 15 remaining accounts have three showing increases of $2,500 or more.
Some of the higher requests are for general supplies, art supplies, new equipment such as a copier lease and a tuba, six new science lab tables and six new bookshelves on wheels for the library space.
Bishop said enrollment at the high school as of Oct. 1 was 1,236, and 30 more students are expected next year.
Middle School Principal Matt Lefebvre talked about the three proposed new positions and elimination of one position in the proposed FY24 budget, which has a 5.5 percent increase overall.
The requests, totaling $161,547, are for one librarian (the school has been without one since FY20), one physical education/wellness teacher (class sizes are nearly 30 students) and a 10-month clerical position in the guidance office.
The paraprofessional position covering the library would be changed to a library media specialist and the original role eliminated if the plan gets approved.
Lefebvre said he wants someone to help manage the guidance office and triage student issues. He acknowledged that some students might have to see a counselor quickly and the position could free up time for the counselors to do interventions while the clerical person handles paperwork.
School Committee member Holly Morand said she likes the sound of a counseling center and asked if the position would be filled by a person with mental health training. Lefebvre replied that it is being considered and would be put into the job listing. He said from past experiences, the secretary shares a wonderful bond with the children and that can work out well.
“It’s a responsible budget that will go a long way in meeting students’ needs,” Lefebvre said. He said that he is always actively looking at enrollment (currently at 976 students) and “the middle school is cozy these days.”
Athletic Director Kiely Murray said her department’s budget reflected a 5.9 percent increase, or $81,963. She said an increase in athletic fees helped to offset the budget by $30,000.
She noted a request for the addition of an assistant varsity coach for the golf program. Murray also explained that an increase of 13 percent ($156,085) in expenses largely is comprised of renting pool time since Keefe Tech closed its pool.
Some of the funds are to provide for a safe facility where cheerleaders can go and practice their tumbling once per week and avoid injuries, she said.
Another hike in expenses would cover costs of maintaining portable toilets, Murray added.
Assistant Superintendent Jeff LaBroad outlined his total preliminary budget in curriculum and instruction of $1,635,107, a 4.3 percent or $67,256 increase.
The $1.4 million total for personnel shows salaries, a 0.4 clerical support position ($20,000 currently grant funded) and curricula stipends of $40,000 for curriculum development, professional learning and in support of educators working outside of school hours.
The expense account is up 3.3 percent ($4,430) for a total of $139,000 and includes textbooks and English learner supplies.
SPED positions a point of contention
At the public comment portion of the meeting, discussion continued about the need for more special education (SPED) therapists and opposition to proposed cuts in that area.
Jennifer Halliday, liaison to the administration from the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC), said people were “left in the dark” until recently about proposed new administrators and the prospect of cuts for people trying to “meet the growing, more complex” needs of students.
Said Halliday: “Staff morale appears to be in the toilet.” She said that counting people’s caseload numbers does not give a true reflection of their work. “Teachers and professionals are not factory workers. Our children are not widgets.”
She urged the committee to listen to the concerns of the staff, answer their calls for additional support and trust them.
Cristina Medeiros also called proposals to eliminate SPED staff “short-sighted.” Medeiros said she works as a speech/language therapist in a neighboring town and Hopkinton is not immune to the shortages for occupational, physical and speech therapists.
Medeiros said school administrators should not be basing their decisions by looking at schedules, because they are not in the field and “service delivery determinations” should be made by licensed professionals only.
She added that one service provider for 60 students is unacceptable and warned the staff Hopkinton maintains will burn out eventually and look for jobs elsewhere.
“You should cherish and care for your therapists,” Medeiros said. She added that it made her sad to see teachers “begging for help,” saying, “Listen to them.”