Hopkinton, MA
Hopkinton, US
3:12 pm, Tuesday, April 23, 2024
temperature icon 27°F
Humidity 51 %
Wind Gust: 10 mph


School Committee adds Nickerson, works on budget plan

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

Lori Nickerson was appointed to serve on the School Committee until next May’s Annual Town Election following a joint vote of the School Committee and Select Board on Thursday.

The seat became vacant when Holly Morand resigned to take a job with Hopkinton Youth & Family Services.

Nickerson previously served on the School Committee from 2014-17, including a stint as chair.

Employed as chief legal and compliance officer for Fortis Life Sciences, Nickerson has three children in the Hopkinton schools.

She attended the meeting along with two other candidates for the position, Ashley Fogg and Jamie Wronka.

Chris Masters and Karen Mulik also expressed interest in the role and submitted written information but did not attend.

Several board members expressed the need for someone who could “hit the ground running” during budget season, citing Nickerson’s previous tenure and experience with the process.

Other factors cited were that Nickerson previously was elected by the town to the position and had conducted superintendent evaluations, which are slated to start in January.

Select Board chair Muriel Kramer said she likes to look for people who have been on committees in the past to fill these gap roles. Kramer said she saw Nickerson work on the board during a “contentious” time and was confident she could start on “day one” with the huge workload of the school budget.

During her remarks and in answer to questions, Nickerson talked about the importance of working collaboratively with other boards and how she could be “a voice of experience” and “lend a helping hand” in the interim position.

She said she would decide by the end of March whether she would run for the three-year term but said it is “a definite possibility.”

Nickerson noted it is also important to educate people on the mandates included in the school budget and act as a “messenger” about the drivers behind budget decisions.

During an initial straw poll, School Committee chair Nancy Cavanaugh, vice chair Amanda Fargiano and member Susan Stephenson gave their support to Nickerson.

From the Select Board, Kramer and Mary Jo LaFreniere also selected her.

Wronka received straw poll support from School Committee member Adam Munroe and Select Board members Amy Ritterbusch, Irfan Nasrullah and vice chair Shahidul Mannan.

Wronka, a visiting instructor in the Occupational Therapy Department at Worcester State University, has three children in the Hopkinton schools and serves as vice chair of the Special Education Parents Advisory Council.

She said she served on the Hopkinton Parent-Teacher Organization (HPTO) in various roles and spoke about communicating the district’s needs “clearly and concisely.”

Wronka noted she would be running for School Committee in May regardless of the outcome on the interim role.

Her supporters indicated it was her certainty about running in May that gave her an edge in their opinions.

Nasrullah said it is a “very heavy lift” to hit the ground running and get up to speed, and he was looking toward continuity and that person building on the commitment for the longer term, a sentiment echoed by his colleagues.

Fogg, who has three young children, ran for one of the two open seats in this past May’s election. She serves on the executive board of the HPTO.

Fogg said she likely would run again but first would discuss the possibility with her family.

The joint committees ultimately voted unanimously to appoint Nickerson, given the majority on the School Committee.

All the candidates were encouraged to seek the three-year term in May. Fargiano noted that her term was up, so there would be at least two seats available.

FY25 school budget reviewed

The two groups along with the Appropriation Committee also discussed the district’s fiscal year 2025 budget.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance Susan Rothermich explained that the FY25 request of $63.1 million is a $3.2 million (5.35%) increase over the last fiscal year.

She noted that salaries comprise 80% of the budget, with 20% in expenses. The proposal contains requests for 9.45 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions totaling $701,508.

In addition to the assistant principal request, there are asks for a custodian, Building & Grounds Department assistant director, 3.5 teachers, 1.2 math tutors, an athletic trainer, administrative assistant, paraprofessionals, part-time counselors and music positions.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said the budget is built for 4,290 students. The current enrollment is 4,217, slightly above the 4,186 students by June 2024 predicted by demographer Arthur Wagman.

“We realize we’re asking a lot of the community,” the superintendent noted.

She said there are 614 special education students, up from 442 in fiscal year 2019 and 480 in fiscal year 2022.

The superintendent noted there is a ratio of 7:3 full-time special education (SPED) teachers for every 100 students.

Conversely, there are fewer students needing services to learn English, a decline of 65 kids from October 2021 to 2023.

She said eliminating one teacher in that area would work, especially because the individual holds multiple certifications and could be voluntarily moved to another role within the district.

Carol Cavanaugh also talked about moving from the design/build phase of programs for SEL (social emotional learning) to maintaining what had been created by a director and removing that position.

She said SEL duties in the classroom would move to Assistant Superintendent Jeff LaBroad, while data would fall under the purview of an assistant principal and adjustment counselor. Finally, the director of student services would also oversee the initiatives.

This discussion was all in conjunction with a request for a new assistant principal at Hopkins School to help handle the population of 684 students.

A look at the capital plan included the Hopkins addition request of $46.7 million, $1 million for the Marathon playground and additional items such as track and field design and engineering at $350,000; district technology at $100,000; district HVAC at $700,000 and vehicle replacement of $80,000 from the revolving account.

LaFreniere asked how many families have more than one child receiving SPED services, noting, “People like it and seem to push to get into it.”

Carol Cavanaugh said the decision for a child to receive SPED services is made following testing and meetings of educators, directors and parents to see if the child qualifies.

“They don’t happen willy nilly. It has to be the decision of the team,” she said.

Nancy Cavanaugh pointed out that some students in families have “genetic predispositions,” that require SPED services.

Munroe said that the emphasis on SPED in the budget is “fantastic. … We’re seeing more of a need in town.”

Kramer said it is important as the budget process continues for the schools to prioritize where they are in terms of the gap between the town’s requested 4.4% cap and the proposed 5.35% increase and think about how to address it.

Nancy Cavanaugh thanked Mannan for suggesting the collaborative approach between boards occur earlier in the budget process.

Trip, kitchen supervisor approved

In other business, the board approved a trip to Spain for Spanish 4, 5 and AP students from April 21-27, 2025.

The School Committee also accepted a flute, two clarinets and musical instruments valued at $1,200 from the estate of Becky Mourey, a former music teacher who lost her battle with ALS.

With the food service revolving funds to sustain it, the committee voted to establish a new position of kitchen supervisor for the Food Service Department. Rothermich said the estimated cost of the position is $54,000 to $60,000.

Members took under advisement a proposal by Peter Thomas to allow individuals to enroll their children in Hopkinton schools for as long as they are full-time employees of the town. He said the initiative would help address the turnover problem at Town Hall and be attractive to incoming employees.

Thomas told Nancy Cavanaugh he would furnish her with financial data about the idea.


Key Storage 4.14.22