Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

3/25 School Committee Meeting: Part II

Two other significant pieces of our meeting on Tuesday: policy changes and the revised FY15 budget draft.

Policy Updates
We've taken a first vote to update the School Council policy to change the way School Improvement Plans (SIP's) are presented. It's recommended that Councils present the SIP's to their school communities first (in a public meeting), in order to collect feedback and make any changes (or not) as they wish. Then the Councils will formally present to the Supt. (in public meetings). Supt. Taymore must review and approve SIP's annually by July 1st. The Supt. will then present them to the Committee in a meeting held prior to our regular business meeting by August 1st.

A first vote was also taken on a series of Support Services policies including school safety, pest management, first aid, school security, vandalism, school evacuations, school closings, school owned materials, recycling, student transportation in private vehicles, and free and reduced lunch. They are all available from our agenda packet for 3/25.

Revised FY15 Draft Budget
Supt. Taymore explained that we have a structural deficit in our budget of $600K and the city doesn't have it to put on the base, but has supported us this year. In addition, the city has agreed to set up a special education stabilization fund so that should we need significant special ed. expenses during the year (e.g. a student moves into the district with substantial needs) we won't have to suddenly cut expenses to meet the budget. She said that this budget is adequate and that three weeks ago she felt like she would need to cut staff but thanks to city support, that won't happen. She has given up requests for additional staff (beyond the one critical need), but explained that we have gained improved staff with the hard work they are doing and we now have the ability to offer new teachers a better salary schedule.

Supt. Taymore also explained that she has taken a lot of risks in this budget. She reduced the special education tuition and transportation line by not backfilling monies from graduating students to anticipated incoming students with needs. She reduced the long-term substitute line but if a staff member will be out for a long period of time, we will need to stop using subs at the high school. Technology will be bonded (thanks to the city) but we always need more and we won't fund it this year. She has refused (at least to this point) to participate in new kindergarten assessment requirements that expect each K teacher to be supplied with an iPad (a cost equivalent to two paraprofessional salaries).

The budget is a moving target. We hope that the state will come through with another $25/student as part of our funding. We hope that special education reimbursements from the state are set at 75% vs. something lower. We hope that federal grants don't continue to be cut. We hope that the institution of a budget freeze in Sept. won't negatively impact teaching and learning. Although hope is not a strategy, the Supt. does have a strategy to continue supporting high-quality student outcomes and believes this budget does it to the best of our ability.

Melrose Education Foundation spokesperson Jen McAndrew's op-ed in today's Free Press offers some great food for thought on the budget (read it here:  http://melrose.wickedlocal.com/article/20140326/NEWS/140326993/2011/OPINION). 
The Committee will host a public forum to hear from the community's on April 2nd at 7:00. You can send comments or suggestions to us at any time. We anticipate voting on April 8th.

Thanks - as always - for learning about what's happening in our district and individual schools, and please send along your thoughts on the FY15 budget or any other school-related topic!