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Money sought to pay for full-time teaching assistants for kindergarten, AHS

Trade-offs loom for next year's $65.8M spending plan

As 17 parents showed up to support the need for full-time teaching assistants in all kindergartens, the chief financial officer presented some possibilities for funding the positions and some other unfunded priorities at the Thursday, Jan. 25, School Committee meeting.

School Committee logo

School Budget logoBefore the parents left, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie reassured the parents that she and CEO John Danizio "have been working on the budget to find ways we can make a recommendation to fund full-time T.A.s." The cost is estimated at $240,000. She cautioned the parents and the School Committee, "It is a situation where you might have to take [away] something else."

The discussion arose in the context of the fiscal 2019 superintendent's budget of $65,860,321, first discussed Jan. 11. This town appropriation leaves $851,836 to pay for the requests of all principals, estimated at more than $3 million. The town-appropriated budget for next year is an increase of $4,931,836 over the current year.

In addition to the budget discussion, the committee voted to approve new programs and courses for the high school as well as two trips and then heard updates about building projects.

Addressing unfunded priorities

Danizio reviewed the budget as presented two weeks earlier, including placeholders for fixed and mandated cost. Next, he announced that after the last meeting he had received some feedback from the School Committee, parents, administrators and leadership teams. Informed by this feedback, he was able to construct a list of the most crucial of the unfunded priorities and their costs. See that list here >> 

The CFO told the committee it needs to increase the reserve teachers by two from the two additions in the original fiscal '19 budget. He explained that "the more we talked about it [only two reserve teachers], the more scared we got."

Also deemed essential, he said, was adding a 0.4 full-time-equivalent teacher to the high school.  And, of course, the schools would need six additional full-time-equivalent teaching assistants to staff every kindergarten with a full-time assistants.

To fund these and other most important unfunded priorities, Danizio turned to look at "What adjustments we can find to afford these." He suggested two budget areas offer possibilities: Out-of-district tuition and circuit-breaker funding.

Alison Elmer, director of special education, combed over the list of students requiring out-district tuitions and deleted those who had aged out of the school system, graduated or whose families had moved out of town. While estimating possible new students, Danizio reported that there may be an adjustment of $50,000 for unfunded priorities.

The amount of circuit-breaker funding available for unfunded priorities in fiscal '19 may yield $50,000 or considerably more, depending on scheduling of payments over the next three years. Other possibilities for additional funding, including state Chapter 70 funds, will be explored at the next long-range planning subcommittee.

The school budget is at the beginning of a process of refinement that will take place over the next two months through a series of School Committee meetings. On Feb. 8, the committee expects to have a full discussion of the superintendent's revised budget. On March 1 is a planned budget hearing where additional changes would be possible. A final budget draft for a final vote by the School Committee is set for March 15.

The approved budget is then submitted to the town Finance Committee to be considered March 21. Places and times remain to be announced.

New AHS courses coming

Assistant Principal Bill McCarthy reported on the 23 new courses added to the high school curriculum. See the links to the listings >> 

He first explained that the Global Competency Program and the Seal of Biliteracy were instituted at the high school 18 months ago and proved to be "a great success." Now he wanted to formally include them in the documentation.

In addition, Principal Matt Janger has created the Innovation and Design Certification. The rationale for these courses overall, McCarthy explained, was to expand the number of programs and electives available to students.

After School Committee members commented and asked questions, they voted to unanimously approve the changes in curriculum.

Member Jennifer Susse commented that the increased opportunity to enroll in electives would be welcomed by her daughter as well as many other Arlington high school students. She very much appreciated the adding of a variety of half-year classes, because it opened up more choices to students.

Member Bill Hayner inquired about the deletion of conversation language classes. McCarthy explained that regular, full-year language classes were preferred by students who, in increasing numbers, were seeking language proficiency.

Member Len Kardon asked about courses for college credit. Bodie responded by discussing an arrangement with Syracuse University in which Arlington High School teachers train at Syracuse and then give courses at Arlington High School for Syracuse University college credit. McCarthy added that two such courses are Government Policy and Economics.

Member Paul Schlichtman asked about any changes in the music program. McCarthy stated that they were now working on more collaboration between different genres of performing arts "to give students wider experience." He offered the example of "musical theater."

Superintendent's updates: Building projects, searches

While the construction at the former Gibbs School is proceeding just fine, reported Bodie, arranging the staffing has been "a challenge" because of "trying to do a lot with few staff." She "hopes to have something more definitive in the next weeks." She is planning a parent forum for March.

Bodie said 65 people have been working together to create a vision for the high school. The School Committee will need to approve the resulting plan before it goes to the state School Building Authority. They will need the visioning to be completed for an education plan before the architect can design the space. Visioning plans have to be submitted to MSBA by mid-April.

In regard to principal searches, site visits for the three Ottoson candidates will be conducted over the next two weeks, with the goal of completing everything by February vacation.

The Hardy principal search is at the interview stage and should be completed by mid-March.

In other business, the committee approved two SummerFun Education Trips and reviewed the monthly budget.

Because Principal Janger was ill, the disciplinary report was moved to a subsequent meeting.

The School Committee then adjourned for executive session. 

Jan. 17, 2018: $65.8M budget: More AHS resources, new plan for kindergarten teaching assistants

Dec. 26, 2017: Citing enrollment, AHS, Ottoson seek staff increases

Dec. 15, 2017: Elementary principals seek $1.4M, but $650K available 

This news summary by YourArlington freelance Jo Anne Preston was published Monday, Jan. 29, 2018.

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