School Committee members on Thursday agreed to send a letter to legislators outlining their concern about a 14 percent increase in costs to send students to private special education schools.
The tuition hike was imposed by the Operational Services Division and goes into effect in fiscal year 2024.
In the letter, drafted by chair Nancy Cavanaugh and signed by all members, the increase is called “both unexpected and difficult to manage” at the local level.
Cavanaugh noted that increases over the past 10 years have averaged 2 percent and there was never any rationale given for not phasing in hikes over time instead.
She wrote the process was done “without collaboration or transparency,” saying it could negatively impact Hopkinton’s budget as well as other districts across the commonwealth.
The impact would affect existing programs as well as cause deferring of staff and resources to support all students, she said.
School Committee member Lya Batlle-Rafferty said the hike comes at a time when all school districts are coming out of COVID and trying to “revitalize.”
“Now they throw something like this and it creates all kinds of issues,” she said.
In writing, the board also expressed support of legislation calling for the use of “pothole” relief funds in FY24, lowering the circuit breaker cost threshold, and increasing the circuit breaker reimbursement rate from 75 percent to 90 percent.
“Legislators should care about offering that help long term,” Cavanaugh said.
Future agenda items proposed
Committee members also gave reminders about topics they would like discussed at future meetings.
Committee member Holly Morand said she gets a lot of feedback from the public about bullying and wants to hear more about the district’s policy.
Batlle-Rafferty said she would love to hear about technology-based programs, saying technology intersects with other disciplines. She added that she wants to gain a sense of how prepared students are when they get to college.
Vice chair Amanda Fargiano asked the board to circle back about financial aid for field trips.
Both Nancy Cavanaugh and member Jenn Devlin noted that these items got put on the back burner during the budget process so that ample time can be given for discussion.
Additional track coaches approved
In other business, the committee approved a request by interim athletic director Kiely Murray for two additional outdoor track and field coaches, one each at the high school and middle school.
The positions will be paid for out of the athletic revolving fund. The board had approved the request last year. This vote was to keep these positions intact “in perpetuity.”
This year, 230 students have registered for the sport at the high school and 126 students at the middle school. Those numbers compare to 220 and 110, respectively, last year.
There are six coaches currently at the high school and three coaches at the middle school. In addition, Murray noted she expects the numbers to increase even more in late registrations and if students don’t make it onto one of the cut teams.
She attributed the higher interest, in part, to the success of the high school cross country and indoor track teams, where eight student athletes earned the title of All-American.
The committee also accepted donations including two 35 mm film cameras valued at $200 for the high school photography program from Bob Cole and a rowing machine to the fitness center from Resilience CrossFit in Hopkinton. The rowing machine is valued at $1,000.
The Fowler family also donated $1,000 to the girls golf program.
“We’re fortunate to live in such a generous community,” Nancy Cavanaugh said.
The next regular School Committee meeting is April 13.