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, April 13, 2015

School Committee Meeting of 4/7

A variety of topics on last Tuesday’s agenda! Here are the highlights from my perspective:

Athletics Director Pat Ruggiero began the meeting with a brief overview of athletics (noting that participation levels are increasing), including recommending that athletic fees remain stable next year. Fees now cover 43% of the athletic budget. The district has explored going to an on-line fee payment system, but has stayed with payment by check (and when necessary, by cash) because there is a cost for paying on-line. Venue rental fees look to remain constant. The district constantly monitors athletic transportation since every bus run costs $330. This past year, the district absorbed the costs for girls’ lacrosse and girls’ hockey (for which the city had provided set-up funds in the prior year). The football line item increased by the cost of helmet reconditioning that had been omitted from the prior year’s budget. We currently employ one trainer and that’s a challenge since there are often games/meets on the same day in different city venues.

Fine and Performing Arts Director Deb DiFruschia spoke to her budget, recommending that elementary music fees remain the same next year. She talked about the many positive elements of the arts in the MPS and the strength of the program, including having both string and chorus practice rooms, having risers for chorus, having quality equipment, and adding many course options to the secondary program next year. Ms. DiFruschia noted challenges like some inequities among elementary schools in teaching specialty (strings/band instruments) and curriculum (which she is working with staff to address), and the current inability to offer scaffolding of some secondary program options (e.g. with 83 chorus members, wanting to offer beginning, intermediate, and advanced course offerings).  She also said that some elementary parents would like a before- or after-school instrumental music option, so she is looking to pilot a program next year. She presented a Powerpoint to the MHS PTO last week that will be posted to our web site, and she’ll come back to the Committee, potentially in June, to provide a more succinct vision for the arts in the district.

Kindergarten enrollments are significantly higher this year than in years past, with current registrations at 309 (compared to an FY15 enrollment of 275). Committee policy indicates we must notify parents by April vacation of their child’s fall placement, but it was voted to allow the Supt. some flexibility in order to notify parents as soon as she has more info. (A letter has since been sent indicating a May 1st notification mailing.) There was discussion around prioritizing late registrants, class size, and other placement criteria. The city is hiring the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) to perform an enrollment study and projection in conjunction with the city’s Master Plan which should help determine whether this year's enrollment figure is a bubble or a trend. On 4/14 the Committee will discuss whether to approve one or more additional Kindergarten classrooms for next year. Cost is about $45K per teacher and $20-25K/classroom (furniture, materials, etc.). The state Kindergarten grant (used to fund paraprofessionals) has been cut from preliminary FY16 state budgets in the amount (for Melrose) of $140K.

The Committee voted to “Approve the Melrose High School Learning Commons renovation project as proposed by Melrose Director of the Office of Planning and Community Development Denise Gaffey based on its substantive educational value to students in the near- and long-term; and recommend said project to the Board of Aldermen for their financial consideration.”

Next meeting is Tuesday, 4/14/15 at 7 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chamber, featuring the Technology Audit and Plan presentation. Hope you can catch it either on MMTV or in person!