The following is a transcript of the Nov. 17, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For other parts of the meeting, click here.
9:27 p.m. – There was a small break before an overview on the FY’ 16 budget request from Superintendent Bill Olsen.
Two members of the Finance Committee were on hand in the audience.
Olsen said that several meetings would occur regarding the budget over the next few weeks.
He highlighted budget assumptions, saying there is a slight decline in elementary school enrollment and an increase in middle school and high school enrollment, with a peak in high school enrollment in two years.
There might need to be an expansion of school choice and several fees.
Many non-educational accounts remain underfunded (supplies, custodial services, maintenance and special education contract services).
The average class size ranges from 25 to 22:1.
There’s an increase in special education students as well as students who do not have English as a native language.
Every effort will be made to maintain programs and services and there is a projection that the Circuit Breaker will be projected from 70-75 percent (this fiscal year it was at 72 percent).
The budget addresses collective bargaining issues and restores a small amount for funding a new technology plan.
There is uncertainty regarding Chapter 70 revenues due to the economy and new elected officials.
He elaborated on underfunded accounts and other risks such as an inability to address large scale repairs.
Personnel, programs and services lost due to revenue shortfalls will not return for years.
Some of the positions described earlier in the meetings, such as the academic coach recommendation.
A carry forward level service budget will require a 3.54 percent increase, but level service requests also include efforts to improve efficiency.
However, there is $470,400 in new requests above level services, part of which is due to changes in the state expulsion law and other things that the school does not have control over.
Approximately $53.6 million will be requested from the General Fund, with an additional $3 million required for school operations coming from various fees.
Over the next seven to eight years, enrollment is expected to decrease by 80 to 100 students per years.
There was a steep decline in enrollment in the late 70s and early 80s, steeper than today.
There’s a net decrease of 2.5 elementary school staff positions expected, but that’s not certain and updated projections will be given.
Olsen said that significant residential development is not expected in the near future.
Additional staffing required to meet current needs at the K-2 level includes 3 FTE positions, but it may not be needed and if it is not needed, Olsen said the money should be returned to other town departments.
There will also be a .4 FTE need for a student support services teacher to equalize special education services at the two middle schools.
$25,000 has been requested to try and begin addressing the special education contracted services gap, since it costs less to address these issues outside of the system.
There is also a request for a .5 FTE for a student support service out-of-district placement liaison, which would create efficiency in terms of out-of-district placements for special needs students. Currently staff needs to spend time coordinating placement that could be used on administrative duties.
Olsen said there’s a request for $55,000 to help the student comply with the new expulsion law. However, this may not be needed, and if it is not needed, Olsen said it should be returned to the town.
A new bus is needed for Westford Academy that will cost $22,000
There’s also a request to increase the Mandarin teacher position from .4 to .6 FTE. There is an expectation of 15 students entering the Mandarin program and Olsen cited the importance of China globally and the amount of students in China learning English.
Olsen also estimated slightly over $100,000 in anticipated heating fuel and electricity costs.
Next was an increase in substitute teacher pay from $70 to $75 per day to become more competitive with nearby school systems. This will be $12,000.
Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery also recommends $22,000 for a thorough review of programs and services for students.
Some of the review will require replacements needed in the school libraries as well as professional development programs.
Olsen next said there’s a request to bring technician Gial Anselmetti to a full-time schedule, which Olsen says she already does of her own accord.
Currently she is a half-time (.5 FTE) salary.
She helps maintain technology equipment and procures new equipment.
Olsen believes that after 20 years in the schools, she may not be able to be retained if she is not brought up to full-time like other technicians.
There’s a request for an extra K-12 Fine & Performing Arts Coordinator position to 1.0 FTE. This would come from a surplus .1 FTE found in the budget. ($7,400.)
And finally, there is a request for $30,000 to implement the digital learning plan.
Olsen said he wants to have more feedback on the budget and thinks one of Westford’s strengths is for town members to come together and have rational discussions on these things.
School Committee Member Tom Clay said this meeting is just a kick off on the topic and there will be more areas where these issues are drilled down.
School Committee Member David Keele asked to table the discussion since all committees generally operate poorly after 10 p.m. and this initial discussion should be an entire agenda.
School Committee Member Margaret Murray agreed with Keele’s assessment regarding the lateness, but had two questions and said she opposed the motion.
School Committee Member Erika Kohl said she had a few high level questions.
School Committee Chairman Tom Clay and Keele voted in favor of the motion. School Committee members Terrance Ryan and Arthur Benoit along with Kohl and Benoit voted in opposition.
Murray offered her questions regarding instructional areas, particularly money not spent at the end of the year.
Kohl asked a question regarding some of the data, which it was learned was available online.
Kohl also praised the Finance Committee members for being here and asked for a spreadsheet for the budget.
There were more questions regarding technological acquisitions.
Olsen then talked more about technological needs, particularly in terms of online testing requirements in the future.
The School Committee asked the Finance Committee members about their thoughts, with Finance Committee chairman Mark Kost saying the biggest item is preventing a copy of what happened in Chelmsford where regarding auditing procedures.
Clay specified that the issue in Chelmsford were auditing procedures were not fully vetted.
Olsen said transparency had been in place for the past 30 years in Westford.
Finance Committee member Ingrid Nillson hoped any redundancies between the two committees can be avoided.
10:19 p.m. – Budget expense warrants were approved. There was no motion regarding minutes. The meeting adjourned.