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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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

School Committee: 3/3/15 Part II

Supt. Taymore announced a grant opportunity (MIDAS) to partner with UMass Boston with the goal to better use data to inform decisions around student achievement and financial operations. It is a five-month pilot and costs $500.

Melrose Director of Planning and Community Development Denise Gaffey indicated that Mayor Dolan has requested that the Aldermen approve a $5.3M bond to fund substantial renovations to Melrose High School, including a complete overhaul of the Resource Center into Learning Commons, and construction of new technology classrooms and a student services suite (that moves Guidance, the Assistant Principals, the Athletic Director, and the Pupil-Personnel Services department to the first floor, with a new entry to that area opposite the Principal's Office). The Learning Commons space is modeled after similar spaces on college campuses and is brighter and more open than the current space. Windows will cover the length of the room facing the hallway and the crow’s nest will come down. There will continue to be books in the space, but significant weeding will occur to ensure that the collection addresses today’s educational needs. Safety of students is paramount and all worker protocols (CORI checks, etc.) will be fully enforced. Upon approval by the Board, the project would go out to bid by September of 2015. Construction would begin during Winter Break, 2015 and continue through mid-August of 2016.

METCO Director Doreen Ward presented an update on Melrose’s METCO program that supports the transporting, education, and support services for 125 students from Boston. Funds for the program have been cut by the state but Melrose will be able to absorb the cuts this year. There is grave concern that the program will be underfunded next year, and Ms. Ward is working with legislators to lobby for stable funding in order to continue the program at its current level and in the same format. Supt. Taymore indicated that some districts are talking about dropping participation in METCO and moving to a School Choice option, meaning that students would still receive education in suburban districts, but they wouldn’t necessarily receive transportation to those districts or educational supports.

Supt. Taymore reviewed the Revenue, Grant, and Revolving Fund Account portions of the FY16 budget (pp. 72-75). E-rate funding is being phased out and the Nutrition class at MHS is being eliminated (due to retirement of the teacher) so those lines are now $0. Music revenue increased due to the addition of 3rd grade wind and brass lessons (although a new law will require the sterilization of school owned musical instruments which may incur expense to the district in the future). Tuitions for School Choice students were budgeted this year. Federal grant funding in all categories is expected to decline next year while facility rentals are expected to increase slightly. At this time, Circuit Breaker (state reimbursement for some Special Education costs) is expected to increase. More information will become available on state and federal funds as those budget decisions are made.

The Committee discussed both FY16 Early Childhood Education (ECC) fees as well as fees for Education Stations. ECC enrollments are around 320 students and capacity has reached maximum levels. The program was just re-accredited, and significant work is being done in the area of curriculum and instruction by Dr. Adams and the entire ECC staff. Fees will stay the same for next year. Supt. Taymore indicated that Education Stations is one the best programs that the district has implemented, having been started by the prior Supt. and Dr. Josephson, and it now supports 670 students in six buildings. Fees will stay the same for Ed. Stations in FY16.

Supt. Taymore reviewed proposed Administration (pp. 43-44) and System Wide expenses (pp. 46-47 of the Budget document). In the area of Administration, the largest budget increase is the addition of an Instructional Technology Specialist, an individual who would “incorporate technology and digital content into teaching and learning.” In the area of System Wide expenses, the Superintendent noted that this year she would be negotiating with four unions and needs an increase of $100K as a contractual stabilization fund. Separately, Melrose pays substitute teachers less than other districts in the area but the district is never sure how much the actual cost will be; MVMMS Principal Conway and MHS Principal Farrell are costing out having one permanent sub in each building. Increases to the computer license budget reflects requested library media resources in addition to on-line needs for the new Graphic Design course at MHS and Engineering course at MVMMS.

There were no budget questions from the community-at-large, but Superintendent Taymore fielded two general questions. First, “What is a Revolving Fund and does it have to be spent all the way down to $0 every year?” Answer: A revolving fund (for example, Athletics) must be established by the Committee and is the one way the district can carry money over to the next year. We used to have more substantial “savings” in them but they’ve been spent down, although we don’t $0 out on anything except e-camp. Second, “What is an offset and what does that mean?” An offset is money from fees collected from Revolving Funds, Grants, donations, etc. that can all be applied against budget needs. (So again for athletics, the money in the Athletic Revolving Account is used to pay for part of the Athletics budget.)

Next session: Tuesday, March 10th in the Aldermanic Chamber from 7-8:30 p.m. It’s a Public Information Session on the budget, so please come and have your questions answered by Supt. Taymore, or provide feedback on elements of the budget!