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School Committee authorizes $48.5M Hopkins project request

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Education, Featured: Education

The School Committee on Thursday voted to authorize a budget request total of $48,550,000 for the Hopkins School addition/renovation, following an update and breakdown from project managers.

Committee members want that amount to appear on the May 6 Town Meeting warrant because they feel it is less confusing than budget figures that incorporate previously allocated funds.

For example, $3 million was approved for design last year, and $850,000 was passed for upgrades to mechanical systems.

The upcoming Town Meeting also will see an article seeking $700,000 for upgrades to mechanical equipment for the school district. Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Susan Rothermich explained that this work is being done in phases across the district as equipment reaches its end of life.

The mechanical upgrades for the schools is a separate capital request from the school renovation/addition article.

Vertex vice president/project director Jeff D’Amico said the actual request for “new debt funding” will be $46,204,000, and that is the amount that will directly impact taxpayers.

He added that anticipated MassSave and Inflation Reduction Act rebates could range from $1.3 million to $2 million, but that money would come “after the fact,” once the building opens.

Member Lori Nickerson said it is essential to be “exceptionally clear,” so townspeople understand “what it all means.”

She said, “It’s a little bit daunting, I think,” referring to all the detailed information with which many residents likely will not be familiar going into Town Meeting.

Rothermich said that even if the Hopkins project does not get approved, the electrical system replacement “has to happen” because it is at the end-of-life stage.

She explained the district did not spend the $850,000 approved in a prior year for the mechanical system because of a desire to tie it into the Hopkins School renovation/addition. That way, Rothermich noted, the work could “extend the green profile” of the school.

Chair Nancy Cavanaugh said there is a lot of talk in town about the planned movement of modulars from Elmwood School over to Hopkins once the new Charleswood School opens in 2027.

It is expected to cost $1.5 million for the modular relocation. Rothermich said those costs could be covered by relocating $1,646,000 of unissued but authorized debt for past school projects. But that decision rests with the town and not the district, she said.

“So that will not be additional costs,” Nancy Cavanaugh said.

Initially, the committee was asked to vote a total construction budget of $49.4 million, but that total included the previously allocated funds. Presenting the information with those items taken out of the equation made more sense, members said.

The next public forum on the Hopkins School project will be April 30 at 6 p.m. D’Amico pointed out it would be available remotely and on HCAM.

Superintendent’s evaluation process continues

A large portion of the meeting was spent reviewing the superintendent’s goals and then explanations of the work done to date to accomplish them.

The goals focused on issues like strengthening math curriculum and student achievement in writing and English/Language Arts; co-teaching models at the middle school; diversity, equity and inclusion efforts district-wide; addressing enrollment growth; school climate and more.

Committee members are working on forms to rate the superintendent on whether she did not meet, partially met, met or exceeded standards.

They will compile their rankings, make comments and discuss the evaluation at future meetings.

In her superintendent’s report, Carol Cavanaugh touched on a number of statistical items, including trends from 2020 to present. For example, the number of students with disabilities increased from 476 to 600 (26%) while students at an economic disadvantage went from 207 to 291 (41%).

Students who are English learners decreased by 11%, from 238 to 213.

Citing a per-pupil expenditure of $15,652, Carol Cavanaugh referred to comparable towns whose expenditures exceed $22,000.

“It costs a little more money to accommodate disparate needs in a couple of populations,” she said. “We still have super high [test] scores and a reasonable per-pupil expenditure.”

Paraprofessional position added

In other business, the committee approved a request to fund a paraprofessional for the remainder of the year and fiscal year 2025 at the Elmwood School. There is grant money available to cover costs.

The board also accepted a donation of $8,330 from the Hopkinton Education Foundation for the purchase of various book series for the Elmwood School library.

And members gave the go-ahead for 32 Hopkinton High School students to go to the HOSA International Leadership Conference in Houston, from June 26-30.

Carol Cavanaugh recognized that the eighth grade chorus received a bronze medal and its orchestra/band earned gold medals from the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association. At the high school, the chorus earned bronze, while the orchestra, symphonic band and concert band received gold medals.

She also said that there is an effort underway to name the high school auditorium for retiring drama teacher Valerie von Rosenvinge.

The meeting also included a review of a policy outlining the relationship between the district and the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC). Representatives of SEPAC acknowledged the need for regular communication and information sharing. In May, members will talk about the role of the school committee liaison to SEPAC and what they expect and hope that person will offer.

“It is so important to establish trust between the two entities,” said School Committee member Susan Stephenson, who at a prior meeting offered to be an alternate to current liaison Adam Munroe.

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