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, May 12, 2016

Translations, Secondary Department Changes, FY17 Budget, Business Office, and More: 5/10 City Wide PTO

The community of PTO representatives brought their usual excellent questions and information to the May City Wide PTO meeting, and Supt. Taymore provided clarity and details as requested. Here are the highlights:

Translation Services
A question was raised about translation of school documents for students. Supt. Taymore reported that every six years, districts engage in a Coordinated Program Review of services as mandated by the state, and Melrose is participating in that process now. (More info here: http://www.doe.mass.edu/pqa/review/cpr/.) It is designed to determine compliance with paperwork requirements around special education, civil rights, and English language learning. Translation is one element of the process and is an issue for all districts, because as they become more diverse, accessing translation services becomes more challenging. Melrose has four dominant languages and there is a note at the bottom of district documents requesting that families who need translation services notify administration. (Supt. Taymore asked PTO’s to include this language on their own notices in the future.) Some languages are more challenging to translate because of the way the language is designed, e.g. a translation could essentially provide an answer to a test question. Another challenge is that some languages include a variety of dialects. Translation has a cost because it should be done by a 3rd party, not by a student for the parent. Some foreign language teachers and principals help in translation efforts. Volunteers in the community or schools could help in this effort, needing to sign a confidentiality agreement (just contact Bridge Coordinator Jennifer McAllister). A back-up service is translation by phone if/when possible.

Secondary Department Changes
Directors (formerly known as Department Chairs) are consolidating from seven staff members (Science, Technology, and Engineering; Math; Social Studies/History; ELA; Performing Arts; Global Language; and Athletics/Health/Wellness/PE) to four staff members (STEM; Humanities, including ELA and Social Studies/History; Global Learning, including Global Language, Art, and Music; and Co-Curricular/Health/Wellness/PE). There will be nine Content Facilitators who report to the Directors; they are teachers who will perform additional duties (e.g. instructional coaching along with other tasks both inside and outside a teacher’s work day) that had been executed by Directors. Many other districts are moving to this model (e.g. North Reading, N. Andover, Fairhaven, Hamilton-Wenham, Waltham, etc.) and the effort solves a few problems. It saves $266K in Director salaries and adds $100K for Content Facilitator stipends, resulting in a net savings of $166K. The model also creates a “back-bench,” a way to “grow” future administrators for the district while giving teachers more say in how education evolves in their content area, and may provide additional opportunities for interdisciplinary connections. It is expected to be challenging to Directors because they will need to delegate more work and help the Content Facilitators achieve success in that work. The work as a body will likely slow down. Supt. Taymore noted that she has a very talented team and that her goal is to “hold onto every team member to the extent possible.”

FY17 Budget
The budget is balanced as of today and Supt. Taymore indicated: “we had to do a lot of things we don’t want to do” like increasing fees, reorganizing and reducing staff, etc. The unions are working with the district in efforts related to staffing. Questions were raised around use and collection of activity fees (Note: voted at $15/middle school student and $35/high school student on 4/26), and Supt. Taymore noted that fees would help pay for stipend costs (paid to club facilitators). There is a payment schedule devoted to clubs and activities in the teachers’ Collective Bargaining Agreement that lists the stipends, and discussion around it is included in the current contract negotiations. There are current club facilitator positions not yet included in the contract so the financial commitment is expected to increase. Clubs sometimes charge dues and that would not continue with employment of the fee. Principals currently oversee clubs and activities and all stipended positions are posted and then selected by the principal. If there is competition for a position (most often occurring in performing arts), a three-member group (principal, staff member, and community member) makes the selection. In the new org. chart, the Director of Co-Curricular/ Health/ Wellness/ PE will assume the oversight role at the secondary level, including compliance with new state financial regulations regarding Student Activity Accounts. (Q: will there be a search committee for this position since it will include Athletic Director activities? Supt. Taymore says no – it is her responsibility to fill this slot.)

Budget cut proposals were designed to have the least impact on students. Daily pay for substitute teachers was initially proposed to increase from $55 to $70 but is now proposed at $60, and obtaining substitute coverage is expected to remain a challenge because of that. Supt. Taymore needs a technology position for the new MHS Learning Commons (budgeted at $30K) that would keep the space open and fully accessible until 5 p.m., but there was no room in the final budget for it (although she’s still exploring a way to make this happen). She thanked city and school Human Resources personnel who went to every school building and talked with staff members about the potential to opt-out or reduce coverage for health insurance, which resulted in reduced district costs and more money coming to the schools. In the past, the district had not used school choice monies for the budget because they are considered one-time funding, but some reserves were applied in a fiscally responsible way to support this year’s needs. Potential raises for teachers were decreased and the Supt. has elected to freeze her own pay in order to check salary growth. More monies are being spent from rentals, Ed. Stations, and ECC revolving accounts. Next year may see less pressure on the budget given that this year required an extra payroll ($400K) because of the way the calendar cycles, but we may receive less money from the state so the future remains uncertain.

Business Office
Since the resignation of the Director of Finance and Administrative Affairs in late April, the district has employed a consultant two days/week to oversee the most pressing business, and that will continue through the end of the school year. (During the search process, the Supt. found the candidates to be relatively inexperienced noting that our district doesn’t have “the luxury [to provide] substantial training.”) Further research indicated that we should expect to pay an annual salary of approx. $125K for the skills/abilities required, and she is considering how to approach next steps for filling the position. (Note: the Committee had initially approved a salary of $105K-$115K.)

Reports from City Wide Attendees
·               The Melrose Energy Challenge has commenced (more info here: http://www.melroseenergy.org/Energy-Challenge-2016.html) and notices will be circulated to parents. If the city performs 511 assessments by 12/31/16, $34K will be grant-funded for city energy efficiency programming. For every energy assessment performed for PTO members, $15 will be donated to PTO, Inc.
·               PTO, Inc. is seeking a President and a Bookkeeper. The position would ideally be filled by a volunteer, as it would lessen the financial impact on PTO’s (who pay for membership). If not, an hourly rate of $25-$50 would be paid to the bookkeeper and if no one is hired at this rate, PTO payments would increase even further as a professional accountant would need to be hired.
·               Last summer's PTO Summit was seen as two well-spent hours, with the sharing of information and ideas among City Wide representatives. Director Jennifer McAllister is planning a 2nd Annual Summit for this August and hopes for an equally valuable session.

Last meeting of the year is in June!