School Committee gets start on FY23 budget with department requests

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The School Committee at its Thursday night meeting heard budget requests for Fiscal Year 2023, including the requests to accommodate the increasing need for services for students with disabilities.

Karen Zaleski, the director of student services and child find coordinator, presented her Preliminary FY23 student services budget of $13,805,089. It reflected an increase of 14 percent from the FY22 budget of $12,112,720, which includes an increase in salaries of $598,345 and total expenses of $1,094,024.

Staffing requests were made because of the increase in the population of students with disabilities, particularly at the pre-K level.

Six paraprofessional positions had been approved by the School Committee for FY22, she said, two of which are being funded by grants. Zaleski said there was a need for several new positions for the upcoming school year, which included three ABA paraprofessionals for pre-K, an intensive teacher for pre-K, a SPED paraprofessional for the high school, and an additional nurse.

“The new positions are budgeted to support students’ needs throughout the district,” Zaleski said. “We promote an inclusive opportunity for students. We don’t keep them in one room all day. They go out into the classroom. So in order to do that effectively, we want to make sure we have paraprofessional support.”

A key request was for an additional pre-K classroom because of increased enrollment, which necessitated the request for pre-K positions.

One program Zaleski highlighted was the expansion of the 18-22 program, which now is operating its own business. She explained that the department has the dual responsibility of operating a business as well as working on transition goals.

“What we decided we need, until we grow this further, is a paraprofessional support person who will help us with the business aspect with the students,” she said, noting the students are gaining skills in marketing, product supervision and financial literacy.

Zaleski said the biggest request is tuition for out-of-district placements for five students who recently moved into the district. There also are four residential placements in the request for an increase of $1,408,358, as well as current and anticipated student placements for this growing population. She said circuit breaker funding of $357,794 would go toward that amount, leaving an operating impact of $1,050,564.

Marathon School Principal Lauren Dubeau said that when a student with a disability turns 3, it is the district’s responsibility to educate that student.

“What is unique about preschool program is our preschool program is 49 percent students with disabilities,” she said. “This year, we’re trending to 90 percent, which is significant. Next year, we will not be able to accommodate the numbers that are coming our way.”

Preschool has a rolling admission process because it takes students when they turn 3, she added. Now there are wait lists at the preschool.

Member Meg Tyler asked for the current number of out-of-district students, and Zaleski said there are 25, including the five new students and the four in residential placements.

Zaleski said there has been an increase with students with social-emotional needs, and the pandemic has been a factor. Some students need to be placed in a therapeutic environment in order to provide them with education.

There also are students who are on waiting lists for day treatment. But because there is no room, they are in school, she added. She has been working with clinicians and providers to see if home tutoring or partial programs could be used to provide students with some level of treatment.

“Your asks are significant in terms of the financial piece,” said Chair Nancy Cavanaugh. “But the need is really highlighted well.”

Technology requests presented

Ashoke Ghosh, the director of technology, asked for 1.9 percent increase from last year’s budget to $44,923.

The top priority he addressed was the maintenance of core operating systems. Money needs to be allocated for repairs as well as for software and licensing fees, he explained.

“Some of the main funds really support our leases,” he said. This includes student devices, projectors and staff computers. The leases are rotated so that they fall on different years.

Other key areas included data privacy, network infrastructure and building staff.

He asked for $6,000 for overtime funds, because sometimes staff members need to provide technical support for events at night or on the weekends.

Ghosh requested $86,954 for licensing costs for programs including Zoom and Schoology, a Chrome management system, as well as internet connectivity. Library and professional development accounts were level funded, while there was a decrease from last year for the money for instructional technology and software.

Buildings and Grounds shares needs

Buildings and Grounds Director Tim Persson announced that he was able to decrease his budget by 2 percent. He said he was able to renegotiate HVAC maintenance contracts to get lower rates, and $100,000 was added to the revolving account because of space rentals. He has invested money in preventative maintenance.

Some of the building equipment is reaching its end-of-life state, he noted, so requests were made for replacement of equipment, as well as floor repairs at some elementary schools.

“I hope that the community realizes the importance of building management systems,” said Member Joe Markey, noting that Persson oversees 120 acres of land as well of the buildings. “Maintenance of the systems is very important.”

COVID-19 update

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh noted that the trial mask period will ends at the high school Friday. About half of the students continue to wear masks. About 58 percent of the students have submitted the required proof of vaccination and parental permission.

“Over time, we’ve had more students removing their masks,” she said.

Masks will need to be worn at least through Dec. 6. At the next meeting on Dec. 2, the committee can decide if it would like to implement another period when mask use will not be required by vaccinated individuals.

The superintendent did note that one classroom at Elmwood had to be closed because eight people tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week-and-a-half. This classroom will be closed through Wednesday.

She said she spoke with Jeffrey Riley, the commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), about the outbreak. There has been no in-school transmission other than in that class. One other student tested positive for COVID-19, but the virus was contracted outside of school.

“One of the things the commissioner said was that, if we are closing a classroom, we did need to provide in-person learning through Zoom,” she said.

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