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News/Events - Meeting Minutes
Advisory Committee, January 13, 2005
JANUARY 13, 2005
MEMBERS PRESENT: Wendy Ballinger, Chairman; Constantine Constantinides; Joe Armstrong; Al Bangert; Dave Friedman; Tony Vegnani; Scott Roberts. MEMBERS NOT PRESENT: Kathy Donahue..
1. MEETING CALLED TO ORDER. Chairman Wendy Ballinger called the meeting to order at 7:00 P.M. in the Scituate Town Library Meeting Room.
2. ACCEPTANCE OF AGENDA. On a MOTION by Mr. Roberts, SECONDED by Mr. Vegnani, the agenda was accepted unanimously (8-0).
Ms. Ballinger announced that the budget for Department 310, South Shore Vocational Technical School, would not be heard tonight. She also said that agenda item, Old Business, will be taken after agenda item 5, Assignment of Articles. She proceeded with agenda item 3, the review of budgets.
3. REVIEW OF BUDGETS FOR 2005 ANNUAL TOWN MEETING. Ms. Ballinger turned the budget review of Department 630, Recreation, over to Mr. Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong welcomed Jennifer Vitelli, head of Recreation, and Mr. Frank DiCesare, to the meeting. In his overview, he said he was pleased to see efficient use of resources the Recreation Department.
Dept 630 RECREATION Mr. Armstrong said that the budget is $13,000 higher than it was for FY05, due to personal services; he said that clerical hours are increased to 35 hours per week and seasonal salaries are increased, as Scituate was underpaying compared to other towns; hours have been cut back in order to be able to increase salaries but it is still $4000 higher than FY05. Ms. Ballinger asked for comments. Mr. Armstrong said that he was impressed that fees generated pay for programs, he asked Ms. Vitelli to talk about this. She said that fees also supported an additional $40,000 for office supplies and part time summer salaries. Mr. DiCesare said that the Friends of Scituate Recreation also helps with fundraising; they gave back $33,000 last year. Mr. Friedman asked about part time salaries. Mr. Roberts made a MOTION to approve the budget; Mr. Armstrong SECONDED the approval, and Mr. Constantinides recused himself. There was a discussion about whether to hold or approve this budget. Ms. Ballinger made a MOTION to hold the budget, and Mr. Vegnani SECONDED this motion. Mr. Friedman supported the idea of approving the budget but Ms. Ballinger said that it would be a matter of consistency to hold this budget. Ms. Ballinger asked for votes for the amendment, three were in favor. There were two abstentions to the original motion, and the motion to approve the original motion passed, 7-0.
Dept. 200 SCITUATE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Ms. Ballinger turned the floor over to Mr. Vegnani and Mr. Grace; Mr. Grace welcomed Mr. Mark Mason, Superintendent of Schools, Ms. Mary Mason, Chairman of the School Committee; and Ms. Teri Garon. Mr. Grace noted that the budget discussed this evening would require an override in the vicinity of $890,000. He said that the main document used at Monday evening’s School Committee meeting is now obsolete due to cuts that have been made; he also said that a proposal was made on Monday evening to charge fees for busing. Mr. Vegnani also thanked Mr. Mason, Ms. Mason and Ms. Garon for their help in understanding the numbers. He said that they have painstakingly gone over the numbers and that it will make going over next year’s budget easier. He also said that this budget will continue to help the system grow rather than just being status quo. Mr. Vegnani drew attention to the accompanying handouts showing budgets per school. He went over the process the School Committee went through to come to the figures shown. Mr. Mason made a statement that included a list of cuts made and the result, which is an increase of 6.1 percent over FY05 for a total of $23,820,508. Ms. Ballinger opened the discussion up to the committee. Mr. Armstrong asked about the proposed fees for buses and if a family in need could request a waiver. Mr. Mason responded that this indeed would be the case. He said that Scamps and food services are self sufficient and that $300,000 would be the target figure for revenues from busing. Mr. Armstrong said that his family couldn’t afford the bus fee when he was growing up, and that it would be desirable to not stigmatize families who would need assistance. Mr. Friedman asked about the structure for busing fees; Ms. Garon said that fees vary in other communities, and while they are still working on the figures they would implement some sort of fee for all students using the school buses. He asked if it would be by child or by school; Ms. Garon said that other communities charge by school. Ms Versecki answered a question about circuit breakers; she said that it is a way of dealing with the highest fees for special education students; each town would be responsible for the first $29,320 and beyond that a certain amount would be given back. In the end only 40.2 percent was returned for the 21 circuit breaker students in FY05. She said that 72 percent is the proposed amount of reimbursement this year. She said that circuit breaker reimburses only on out of district placements, and that that there is a possibility that some students in the district will also qualify for circuit breaker. Answering a question by Mr. Friedman, Mr. Mason said that it is most desirable to keep our students in the district and that this is the aim of the School Department. Mr. Friedman asked about the possibility of outsourcing food services, as in other communities. Mr. Mason said that they looked into this and outsourcing transportation in the recent past and that the costs were prohibitive. He also said that cafeteria employees are Scituate residents. Mr. Friedman commented that a school system should be able to pay for busing of all its students. Mr. Mason said that this is a good way to show the community that the schools are trying to raise revenue. Ms. Mason added that this helps to preserve student services in the classroom. Mr. Roberts asked about why class sizes are higher for the third grade and the tenth grade. Mr. Mason said that these are larger classes that are continuing to move through the system. Ms. Mason asked if the tenth grade figure represents students returning from public school, but the response was that this has always been a large class. Mr. Roberts asked why Wampatuck stands out with an overall increase of 59 students. Ms. Donovan, Principal of Wampatuck School, said that Jenkins appears to be overcrowded and that some of those students could be returned to Wampatuck. She also said that when developments in Town get going we will see another increase in the Wampatuck population. Mr. Roberts asked about the police officer proposed as an additional staff member; Mr. Mason explained that a school resource officer would help to keep youngsters out of trouble. Ms. Nuezzo-Miller, Principal of Scituate High School, said that this person is a police officer that would be the eyes and ears for at risk students in the school. She said that this program has been successful in other communities. Mr. Agnew said that only the Town Administrator hires police officers and that it is a civil service position and that the details would have to be worked out; he said that a permanent intermittent could possibly be hired. Mr. Roberts asked about the percentage of the budget going into the maintenance of the schools. Ms. Garon said that she did not have this figure but that she could provide it. Mr. Bangert asked about the proposed instructional specialists at the elementary schools. Mr. Mason said that this person would look into where the weaknesses are in students in grades one through three, and that taking care of this early on will provide a cost savings later on. He continued that two years ago Title 1 gave Scituate $225,000 to do this, and that because of changing demographics the schools lost this money. He said that the school district would now fund this program. Mr. Bangert asked what level of education these specialists would have. Mr. Mason said that originally they would have wanted someone with a Masters degree but that cost reductions have necessitated a downgrading of qualifications. Ms. Donovan spoke about No Child Left Behind and that test scores are compared from year to year. She also said that not all students who are struggling are students with disabilities. She said that targeted assistance will help these children rise to their potential. She said it is an investment rather than an expense, and that it will save money in the long run. Mr. Vegnani clarified that this expenditure is not to replace a person who has been lost, and Mr. Mason said that this is true. Mr. Bangert asked about the part time salaries at the high school. Ms. Nuezzo-Miller explained that the high school works on sections. Mr. Bangert observed that $908,000 of adjustments were added back into the budget by the School Committee; Ms. Mason said that the school resource officer was added back in, as were the instructional specialists, although at a decreased salary. She said that the art teacher was reduced; transportation was discussed; supplies were cut, including textbooks to 50 percent, and not eliminated. The parent notification services were added back in; and student services was left intact. Mr. Bangert asked how this can be sold to the voters; Mr. Mason said that the needs of all other departments in Town must be taken into account. He said that the current budget will be necessary to provide the students in the middle of the educational spectrum to have as full an education as those at either end. Mr. Constantinides asked what the next round of cuts would be if more cuts were made. Ms. Mason said that the School Committee said they will go back to supplies for further cutting before cutting personnel. Mr. Constantinides asked why the numbers of teachers in each school is not indicated in the documentation that was provided. Mr. Mason said that classes at the high school average from 18 to 30 students; at Gates from 24 to 27 students; and in the elementary schools in the low 20s. Ms. Ballinger said that one of the documents indicates that the average in the elementary schools is 19.5. Mr. Constantinides asked about students leaving for private school. Mr. Mason said that in K-8 most students stay in the district, but that for various reasons a number of students in grades 7 and 8 do leave for private school. Ms. Nuezzo-Miller said that between 13 and 18 percent go to private school due to family tradition, and that in many local communities this is also the number. Mr. Constantinides asked if there is a long range master plan for the school system and how it will affect the budget. Mr. Ed Tibbetts, a member of the School Committee, said that the Zoning Board of Appeals recently approved a 150 unit subdivision, and that this would impact the School Committee plan. He said that students in the population and their needs change, and that this has impacted the current budget. He said that projections for Jenkins School did not show that the school would be overcrowded as it is now. Mr. Constantinides asked if the School Committee and ZBA communicate. Mr. Tibbetts said that a number of housing projects in Town are currently under appeal, and it is not possible to know what the impact will be and when. Mr. Grace said that there is a subcommittee that is working on long range planning for the schools. Mr. Jim Kelleher, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, said that there is a redistricting subcommittee that is looking at projections for population growth etc, as well as where to go with the school buildings, and that the subcommittee will continue to provide information to help with forecasting. Mr. Roberts said that the Financial Forecasting Committee works on assumptions; he also said that with the population projections, the actions could be priced out and that projections could be made so that impact over time could be shown. He said that the incremental approach is difficult and that it would give us some discipline to have forecasting. Ms. Garon said that they are initiating a five year planning process. Mr. Constantinides asked about Wampatuck supplies on page 20 of the school budget; Ms. Donovan replied that it is a per student cost and takes into account the possibility of some students returning from Jenkins to Wampatuck. There was an error noted on the same page. Mr. Constantinides asked about memberships, and Ms. Nuezzo Miller responded that these are high school teachers’ memberships to state organizations for professional development, curriculum changes, and so forth. Ms. Ballinger said that there is nothing in the budgets that is not justifiable, but that the bottom line is difficult. She said that the shared budgets (Town health plan and pension plan) would be impacted by all the new hires, and asked whether the School Committee could roll in the new positions over time, perhaps piloting the instructional specialist in one school. She also said that she is concerned that there is no coverage for maintenance and replacement of broken items as necessary. She said that $250,000 in costs would result from 20 new hires (19.7 FTE are proposed). Mr. Grace said that there are 8 hires that have to be made, they are aides that are designated for certain students and it is state mandated. Ms. Versecki said that the early childhood center part time position would be for children coming in at age 3 from early intervention and these children will be in a full day program. The .5 SPED aide and .5 SPED teacher at Gates is for students coming up from the elementary schools. Mr. Tibbetts said that the School Committee is not like running a tight budget at a business, that in the schools you phase people in but students have needs now. Mr. Bangert said that the override looks more like $1.1 million if the health and pension plans are taken into account. Ms. Ballinger asked how many people in the FTEs are currently on staff and receiving benefits. Ms. Nuezzo-Miller said that three of the .6s are people who currently have part time jobs. Ms. Ballinger said that 14 or 15 people will qualify for benefits. She said that this is something for the School Committee to consider as it will impact the Town. Mr. Mason said that there was a 3.6 percent increase in the school budget the first year he was Superintendent, and the second year was a lean 3.2 percent increase due to gratitude for getting Jenkins open. Mr. Armstrong said that while he appreciates the necessity for the increases, he would say the school resource officer is not necessary and could be knocked out of the budget; that unless there are specific safety problems as there have been in Marshfield, the School Committee could consider eliminating this position. Mr. Vegnani said that he is opposed to the fee for busing, it will never be rolled back; he said there will be a backlash and it will not generate the income that you think, people will drive their children to school. He said that the circuit breaker here is at a higher level, there is some risk there as the state might decrease it as they have in the past. He asked if the override fails, do we go back to the previous proposed budget. Mr. Mason said that we should be as optimistic as possible and not talk about going back to that budget. Mr. Grace said that he is also opposed to the bus fee, and said that the increase in traffic at the schools is a consideration, as more people will be driving their children to school. Mr. Mason said that the bus fee shows the community that the schools are trying to increase revenues. Mr. Bangert said that the override amount is pretty much for new hires, and people will want to know what the community will get back for these new hires. Ms. Mason said that at the high school level electives are more important now than they used to be, the colleges look for this. She said the changing atmosphere and curriculum at the high school level is driving some of the new hires. Ms. Nuezzo-Miller said that most high school students do want a full study load and that she can provide numbers of what classes have been requested. Mr. Bangert said that parents will be annoyed by the fact that they have to advocate for the override and also pay for busing. Mr. Roberts said that we will have to take a look at what our strategy will be going forward. Mr. Friedman said having heard Mr. Bangert he is even less comfortable now with the bus fee, he would rather support a larger override. Ms. Ballinger asked for a motion on this budget; she said that only the Selectmen can vote to put an override on the budget. Mr. Roberts made a MOTION to hold the budget; the motion was SECONDED by Mr. Grace; all present were in favor (8-0). Ms. Mason thanked Mr. Grace and Mr. Vegnani for their support and attendance at School Committee meetings. She added in response to Mr. Roberts’ earlier comments that financial forecasting is a piece that the School Committee needs to look at. Ms. Ballinger thanked Mr. Mason, Ms. Mason, and Ms. Garon.
6. OLD BUSINESS.
4. On a MOTION by Mr. Friedman, SECONDED by Mr. Roberts, the Minutes of the Meetings of November 18, 2004, December 2, 2004, December 9, 2004, and December 16, 2004 were unanimously approved (8-0) with amendments as noted.
5. ASSIGNMENT OF ARTICLES FOR ANNUAL TOWN MEETING. Mr. Bangert said that he regrets he will be absent for next week’s Advisory Committee meeting, and went over the Warrant Articles for the CPC, dated December 3, 2004. Ms. Ballinger passed out a draft of assignments dated January 12, 2005. The assignments were made, and Ms. Ballinger said that she would send out a final list by email to members.
7. NEW BUSINESS. Mr. Bangert handed out his comments on the Water Department budget, as he will not be present at next week’s meeting. Mr. Friedman said that he liked the format of Mr. Bangert’s notes. Mr. Roberts said that regarding the St. Frances committee, Mr. Wood resigned and Mr. Norton suggested that the committee be on hold for the moment. Mr. Roberts said that an overall space needs committee is being established. Mr. Grace said he has been sitting in on the space committee for the schools and that they are looking at possibly switching to a different grade configuration a couple of years down the road. He said they are also aware that they have to renovate Gates and that they need to keep in mind configuration as they make these plans. He said that if the school population stays the same and they make Gates a 5th grade to 8th grade school it can handle 1000 students, you could decommission one of the elementary schools. He said you could take Wampatuck offline and renovate it and then bring it back online. Mr. Armstrong said that there is nothing new to report on the housing committee. There was a discussion on when the Advisory Committee will be voting on the budgets that they have held on. Ms. Ballinger said that the book will have to go to the printer by February 18; the writeups will have to be in and the book will have to be ready by February 3.
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