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School Committee listening session evokes questions on grade configurations, budget

by | Jan 16, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

The Hopkinton School Committee’s Listening Session via Zoom on Sunday night was intended to focus on possible grade configurations related to the Elmwood School project. However, comments related to the overall budget as well as the restoration of therapy service positions factored into the conversation.

School Committee chair Nancy Cavanaugh noted a final decision on the grade configuration issue must be made by Feb. 2 in order to meet the Massachusetts School Building Authority timeline.

While the grade decision is the school board’s purview, the Elementary School Building Committee (ESBC) works on specifics on the design and site locations, she said.

At an earlier regular School Committee presentation, representatives from Perkins Eastman and Vertex outlined the impact the grade configurations at Elmwood School would have on the other buildings.

If a completed Elmwood School project happens, a Grades 2-3 configuration would mean an additional 108,000 gross square feet would be needed across the other school buildings. If Elmwood is done with a Grades 2-3-4 setup, an additional 68,000 gross square feet would be needed, according to the study.

With estimated reimbursement from the MSBA of 20-25 percent factored in, the cost on the other school buildings would be $295 million to $302 million if Elmwood has two grades.

If Elmwood has three grades, the cost after MSBA reimbursement would be $280 million to $288 million, according to the study.

The $15 million savings is one positive of a Grades 2-3-4 configuration, Cavanaugh said. No matter what configuration is chosen, issues at the other grades will have to be addressed, she added. Annual Town Meeting this spring, for example, will be asked to pay for design work of additions at Hopkins School.

School Committee member Lya Batlle-Rafferty also serves on the ESBC. She assured the listeners that factors like traffic patterns are being thoroughly investigated as are things like disruption to student learning if the Elmwood School is built on the same lot as the existing structure.

“A lot of things are on the table. We’re trying to weigh through carefully in order to make a good decision,” Batlle-Rafferty said.

Cavanaugh said a 2-3-4 configuration would mean less work would be needed at the middle school.

Grades 5-6 would be a lower middle school and Grades 7-8 would be a higher middle school using this model. School officials had pointed out that sixth-graders would gain leadership roles while fifth-graders could participate in more extracurriculars and clubs with this model, she noted.

Cavanaugh said one plan links the middle and high schools, opening up access to eighth-graders for high school classes like geometry that aren’t currently offered.

Another scenario has Grade 9 in an “academy” environment at the high school.

Hopkinton High School wellness teacher Diane Maillet talked about the need for more physical education space, while Batlle-Rafferty noted the larger spaces like the cafeterias and kitchens will need to be expanded to accommodate enrollment short and long term.

Batlle-Rafferty said that currently students are transitioning frequently between grades, and a 2-3-4 scenario offers “a little extra breathing room” in terms of those transitions.

A concern, however, is the splitting up of long-time co-workers if a change is made, she added.

Concerns expressed about repeat of therapy debate

Jen Halliday, Special Education Parent Advisory Council liaison to administration, expressed concern that next year parents again might have to experience the stress they had at Christmastime if special education (SPED) services are proposed to be cut again.

“I don’t like how I feel in my heart,” she said.

Halliday also asked who would be reviewing speech therapy services over the year to make a determination for the next budget. Cavanaugh said she believed a grant would be funding someone from outside coming in to do that review.

Cavanaugh said she, too, did not want widespread stress throughout the community as happened over the therapy cuts plan. She said it has been “tremendous” to hear from people in town whether it is about the budget, Elmwood project or another issue.

The feedback is helpful to incorporate into decision-making going forward, she said.

Kristen Pearson, a learning specialist, said an August presentation on a three-year SPED plan had staffing additions that didn’t ultimately make it into this budget. She asked why. Cavanaugh said school administrators would be better able to answer that question. She made note to include it on a future school committee agenda.

Meredith Wolcott asked about funding sources for additional positions. She noted that she and other parents had not asked for reimbursement for unused IEP (individualized educational plan) transportation during COVID and wondered if that money was available.

Cavanaugh said in general, money not used goes back to the town, but she couldn’t imagine the department having a lot of unused funds this past year. She said Director of Finance Susan Rothermich could better answer questions about that specific scenario.

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