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School Committee reorganizes; Munroe absent again

by | Jun 6, 2024 | Education, Featured: Education

The first order of business at Thursday’s School Committee meeting was to reorganize and welcome new members Chris Masters and Jamie Wronka.

Nancy Cavanaugh was reelected to serve as chair, and Wronka was voted as vice chair. She expressed interest in the role and cited her decade of experience serving on other committees, including in leadership positions.

Member Adam Munroe again was absent from the meeting. Cavanaugh noted that following a discussion about his absenteeism last month, she learned that only appointed positions on boards are subject to the town charter’s allowance for removal if absent 50% or more or for four or more consecutive meetings.

The chair noted that Munroe has been absent for 47% of the meetings and for more than four consecutive ones.

She said that she had reached out to him repeatedly via text and email but had not received any responses. The last time she heard from him was April 25.

“There is no precedent. I haven’t seen it on any other [elected] committees,” Cavanaugh said. “A lot of people do not realize what a time commitment this is.” She noted that along with regular meetings, there are budget sessions and construction projects going on that mean committee members have busy schedules.

“Our hands are tied with what we are able to do, which is nothing,” she added.

Masters noted that Munroe’s absence and lack of communication “seems like a clear message” about his interest in serving on the board.

Cavanaugh said she was concerned about Munroe’s well-being and that he brought a lot of skills to the table initially. “My hope is things are OK with him and there is some kind of conflict. I hope to hear something.”

Masters said, “So there is nothing we can do. … So the seat sits empty until his term is over?”

The chair noted this would be the start of the second year of Munroe’s three-year term. She said the town charter has a recall provision, but “it is a high bar to meet,” requiring thousands of signatures and votes that appear unlikely to be obtained given the town’s overall turnout at the polls.

She spoke about the difficulties of having 2-2 votes. In those cases, an issue cannot move forward. “It’s a tough place to be,” Cavanaugh said.

Later in the meeting, a question came up about approving meeting minutes because two of the members (Masters and Wronka) were not on the board at the time. However, Wronka had watched the meeting, so the minutes were approved.

Information given about trade subcontractors

Tim Persson, director of school facilities, and Ricky Sughrue, project manager at Commodore Builders, gave information about the prequalification process for trade subcontractors to work on the Hopkins Lower Middle School project.

A total of 110 subcontractors applied to bid. Of those, 99 were deemed eligible to bid following background checks and reviews. Persson explained that the subcontractors would do jobs like painting, roofing, waterproofing, electric, fire protection, tiles, etc.

Having options of a half dozen or more bidders in each category is a positive, he said.

“It is a great list, which should benefit us [financially],” Persson said.

Sughrue added that any time there is more than five bidders it makes the process “very competitive.”

The committee then postponed a vote on Commodore Builders’ request for approval of “not to exceed” $30,000 for a licensed site professional to test the soil (chemical) makeup to predetermine locations from which soil can be exported.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said that Jeff D’Amico, Vertex project director/vice president, told her soil had to be exported from the site. The committee will bring up the issue at a special Zoom meeting on June 13 at 8 p.m.

On June 13, members also will vote on the paraprofessionals’ union contract, which was on the agenda but had some language changes that first had to be incorporated.

The committee also delayed delegating liaison roles for committee members until the two new individuals could review the list and see where their interests lie.

Committee hears presentation on gun storage safety

In other business, the committee heard from Carly Grant and Nicole Simpson representing a local chapter of Grassroots 4GVP (for Gun Violence Protection).

Their presentation on “Be SMART” gave data about school shootings, unintentional shootings and suicides by firearms involving kids. They stressed that they are not “anti-gun” activists but are trying to raise awareness about the importance of secure firearm storage and an existing Massachusetts statute about it.

Be SMART includes an acronym for five desired behaviors around guns: securing all guns in households and vehicles; modeling responsible behavior around guns; asking about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes; recognizing the role of guns in suicide; and telling peers to be smart about gun safety.

Grant and Simpson cited statistics such as the fact that firearms are the leading cause of death for children, above car accidents and cancer. Closer to home, they referenced a 2021 MetroWest survey showing 16% of Hopkinton High School students thought about suicide, while 4% attempted suicide.

The committee was asked to adopt a Secure Storage Notification Resolution.

The presenters mentioned that schools can help with getting the word out and in a variety of ways such as by working with the Police Department, adding the resolution to the student handbooks, communication with parents and more.

Because it would require a vote to adopt, the issue was postponed until a future meeting in June.

At that time, Grant and Simpson will bring back examples of activities other communities have done while adopting the resolution.

Laptop, Chromebook leases approved

The committee voted to approve a three-year lease for 1,100 Chromebooks for students in Grades 2-8. Total lease payments to American Capital amount to $513,116.66.11 and will be funded from the schools’ technology budget.

Another three-year lease authorized was with Apple Inc. for the 1:1 laptop program at the high school.

The program provides MacBooks for next year’s ninth graders, and the number of units are based on family applications. The district uses the PEPPM purchasing program to provide devices that the students pay for over four years.

The student cost for the laptop model 1 and 2 is $852.89 and $1,411.62, respectively. (The second model has more memory and storage capacity). Director of Technology Ashoke Ghosh said annual lease payments total $49,966.25 with funding from the participant payments made into the 1:1 Laptop Initiative Revolving Account by students and their families.

The district’s fiscal year 2025 includes funding for teacher laptop replacements at the elementary schools and loaners at the high school from Apple. The PEPPM purchasing program also was used to acquire 405 laptops with accessories and warranty coverage and lease through Apple Education.

The technology budget will fund the annual lease payments of $151,665, Ghosh said.

Overseas school trip approved

Thanks to a positive School Committee vote, 15 students will travel with chaperones to Iceland, Denmark and Germany from July 3-15. Students were responsible for the $8,189 cost to participate in a program called: EF Global Leadership Summit — Impact of Water on Society.

Chaperones are Valerie von Rosenvinge and Charlotte Shire. The group leader is Chaska Shin.

Grant accepted for preschool classrooms

The Trustees of the School Fund granted Marathon School a $5,000 Seeing Ourselves Doll grant.

The idea is to provide districts with books, dolls, toys and medical equipment that feature children with medical conditions, disabilities and other differences in order to build empathy and greater understanding.

Data on graduates included in report

In her superintendent’s report, Carol Cavanaugh reflected on the 289 seniors who graduated last week, praising the students’ speeches as “real and touching” and the ceremony itself as “a really beautiful night.”

Wronka noted she was impressed with Principal Evan Bishop’s address as well as his rapport with the high school students.

“It was lovely to see him in action,” she said.

Carol Cavanaugh reported that 41 of the graduates will attend UMass Amherst, four are moving to full-time employment, one is joining the military, seven will attend Ivy League schools, five intend to seek associate’s degrees and six will be attending college outside of the United States.

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