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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Director of Finance Q&A, FY18 Budget, Melrose Grad Night, and More: 2/14 City Wide PTO

With Supt. Taymore unavailable, Director of Finance and Administrative Affairs Marianne Farrell was kind enough to sit in and address some parent questions. The meeting then moved to the FY18 budget, Melrose Grad Night, and calendar/info sharing.

Ms. Farrell
1. How are decisions made about snow days? The Supt. is in contact with DPW re: traffic patterns, routes, etc. Middlesex League Supts. talk too.

2. Were there any thoughts about a delay on Friday (2/10)? Didn’t make the call that day, but the district looks at things like walking routes and potential staff attendance in addition to pure weather/road conditions.

3. What is the disinfectant being used in the schools? (A parent explored the product and the hypothesis is that it doesn’t kill all bacteria.) Are there more intense products? Since the DPW now manages facilities, the best thing to do is call Ann Waitt and she can advise.

4. Thoughts on Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education? Things are up in the air and everyone is waiting to see. We are doing the best we can every day, and hoping that things at the federal level will follow.

5. Hot button at the high school: substitute teachers. Raising the fee is not going to help at HS but we need a substitute strategy. It’s a universal problem in every district at every level. We’ve tried to be creative. It’s a huge number to adjust the financial line item. Other districts have used agencies, still potentially bringing in different people every day. Benefit of doing it ourselves means we can provide some consistency. Ideally we’d have people on staff to address buildings. When trying to do day by day, it’s hard. May even be more of a challenge at elementary since older students have more independence. We do partnership with Salem State and sometimes we can use student teachers after they finish their work, but not always. Lexington has full time subs and we could hire permanent subs but there is a cost to that. Teachers who are out leave sub plans but at HS, it’s tough to present substantive content-specific material. At HS, there is a room students go to if there is a sub. Sometimes there is work, other times Chromebooks. Can’t go to Learning Commons because no staff. Possible you could have multiple subs in the day. A person in the room, but there could be five or six classes there. Are teachers saying “no one can teach the lesson I leave, so why would I bother?” Parent: If there were money for Chromebooks and subs, would that help; try to be creative.

FY18 Budget
·      Priorities (agreed by the Committee last October): In Supt. Taymore’s Budget Narrative under Finance and Facilities on 1/24 (http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=2879)
·      Schedule: can be found in the Rolling Agenda under Announcements of the Chair and always subject to adjustment (http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=2879)
·      Notes:
o   85% of budget is staffing so levels of discretionary spending are very low.
o   State and federal regulations add to choice limitations; we must address requirements first.
o   Unfunded mandates are also a concern, like the upcoming year’s unfunded state requirement to screen secondary students for drug use, which we will do to support the health and safety of students although there is a cost that must be borne by the district.
o   The K grant has gone away and will not come back. Federal funding and state funding decreasing so Melrose is on its own more and more. There comes a point where you can’t do more with less, you can only do less with less. The state’s education funding formula contains a provision that calculates what they think each city and town can afford based on property values and median incomes, and provides funds to meet that equation.
o   This year’s priorities are expected to drive budget decisions.
o   Enrollments are the main driver of decision-making.
o   At the high school, choices for electives are based on student interest to the extent they are affordable (for example, even if all students wanted electives in chem/physics, the expense and difficulty to hire/retain those teachers might preclude this option).
o   Policy and the collective bargaining agreement dictate recommendations around class size and the district does the best it can to honor them.
o   Fees (ECC tuition, Ed Stations, athletics, elementary music, HS photography class, transcripts, any new fees) are expected to be decided by March 7th with the final budget vote on April 4th.

Guest Presenters: Melrose Grad Night
·      4th year, providing a safe alternative for students on graduation night.
·      Community’s gift to the kids.
·      Send-off for kids and show them that we have your back, always; and we’re sending you off safely to your next big things.
·      All students breathalyzed (just like prom) and no failures in three years, meaning they respect the event.
·      Needs to have substantive participation to be a sustainable event.
·      Need volunteers from elementary schools so they can not only help, but experience their own future with great high school kids.
·      Cost of the event = $25K / year (about $100/student).
·      Last year – kids lined up at the door to get in, because class before them said it was awesome.
·      Sends the message that you don’t need alcohol to have fun.
·      Want every student to attend this year and forever. How to accomplish this?
o   Reach out to PTO’s re: awareness and help. Can come to living rooms, PTO meetings, other venues.
o   Looking for on-going, permanent funding (yearly, dependable sponsors). Could PTO’s donate $250 per year, every year, to keep this going?
·      This “isn’t a high school thing, it’s a community thing.”
·      $17K raised for this year now. They are asking for donations but really seeking consistent, on-going funding (revenue stream). HS PTO has voted to give $500/year, every year.
·      “Like” the Grad Night Facebook page.
·      Publicizing to grandparents this year.
·      Can you help? http://melrosegradnight.com/

Calendar and info sharing
·      The Bridge: Community Reading Day on March 2nd.
·      The Bridge: Trivia Bee on March 25th ($250).
·      Read-a-Thon (Who’s Reading?) was very successful at Winthrop, raising $18K. Kids talked about literature which they aren’t always able to do on school time. Can do it by book, minutes read, flat donation, etc. Roosevelt doing it now and have raised $12K; working on having parents oversee logs more significantly; all getting bookmarks, and prizes are B&N gift cards. Winthrop will use some of the money for Chromebook purchases.
·      MAAV Community Coffeehouse is March 19th (Sunday afternoon) 4-6 p.m. at the Temple. Appropriate for small children!
·      ECC auction is March 11 7-11; April 8th auction (Roosevelt)
·      HM not doing golf tournament but doing Fun Run this year in late May (before Memorial Day).
·      Lincoln Spring Carnival April 2nd; Variety Show May 5th.
·      Roosevelt Diversity Books Project; principals have book sheets.
·      Lincoln exploring a paid “volunteer” from PTO to be in the library after school for kids. Jen M. says staffing is a district function, and a paid person isn’t really a volunteer anymore. Best thing to do is contact Supt. for questions and assistance.

Next meeting is March 14th.