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Principals make budget requests, and committee seeks priorities

Pleas for FY'20 from AHS, Ottoson, Gibbs, union

New teaching positions in response to expected increased enrollment topped the list of budget requests for next year from Gibbs, Ottoson and high school principals. Following that, in presentations to the School Committee on Dec. 13, was educational materials.

School Committee logo

The teachers' union, the Arlington Educational Association, also provided its request for fiscal 2020.

Committee members cautioned the presenters that during the next month, they should develop a priority list since all the needs, however worthy, cannot be accommodated by the next year’s school budget.

Following the “asks,” AHS Principal Matt Janger gave a brief justification for including features for the rebuilt high school that are not covered by the state 40-percent reimbursement.

Gibbs requests for FY20

Assistant Principal Wendy Salvatore read a report written by Principal Kristin DeFrancisco and her. DeFrancisco did not attend since she had another commitment. Read the full report >> 

The report's requests for teaching positions include those for special education (1.0 full-time equivalent), speech and language pathologist (0.2 FTE), 0.2 phys-ed teacher (0.2FTE) and math interventionist (1.0 FTE). The report said there would be a need for additional teaching staff in art, technology, digital media and world language. The number of additional teachers could not be determined at this time. The report also asked for an additional nurse (0.5 FTE).

Other funding requests were for onsite coaching for the social-and-emotional learning programming and funds for classroom coverage while teachers attend workshops.

Hayner seeks total requests

Member Bill Hayner told Salvatore that the committee would have to know the total number of staff requests as well as the amount for professional development. She replied that she did not know them and would ask DeFrancisco.

Member Len Kardon remarked: “Gibbs was extensively staffed compared to the Ottoson for this year, so it was necessary to balance the needs of both.” Specifically, he pointed out that the special-education staffing at the Gibbs was at a relatively higher ratio than the Ottoson. He requested more data.

Gibbs was the only school with at least 500 students that has two nurses, Kardon continued, and suggested that the Gibbs make use of a nursing assistant.

Superintendent Kathleen Bodie noted, “The Gibbs had a unusual cohort of special needs” and “the nursing staff had to follow the cohort.”

After listening to comparisons of the Gibbs and the Ottoson, Hayner inquired as to why these two schools serving middle-school students did not make their requests jointly, as do the elementary schools. At that point, Ottoson Principal Brian Meringer broke in to say that the two schools were working on this goal and will report together next year.

Member Jane Morgan reminded that budget requests must be prioritized since “the School Committee cannot fill all of these legitimate requests.”

Ottoson requests for FY20

Principal Meringer began by stressing his “top priority was keeping class sized below 25.” If able to do so, he reported that it “would make classroom management easier, improve class participation and allow struggling students to get more help.”

To that end, Meringer requested an additional one-half cluster for the eighth grade because of increased enrollment and increased student needs. Other additional teaching staff required would be for Spanish, French, special education and music. Read the full report >> 

Meringer then presented a proposed revamped organization of school counselors. Now, three counselors serve all the students, and the students are assigned according their last names in alphabetical order. He proposes to have four counselors with two serving each grade. That would facilitate communication with teachers and each other, he said. Thus, the Ottoson would require one more school counselor. In addition, with a fourth counselor, the case load, now at 287 students per counselor, would be reduced to 225.

Further, the Ottoson would need an increase of supplies, primarily text books for the next year plus choral risers and science resources.

Meringer made a special plea for increasing the pay of substitute teachers and teaching assistants to the level of those for the High School. The present level of pay makes it too difficult to fill those positions.

Sovcial worker not funded

Morgan reminded everyone of the “ask” last year for a 1.5 social worker by the former principal that was not funded. She wanted to why this request differed. Meringer responded that counselors have much of the same training and cover a broader range of issues.

Hayner asked why the school was still using print books when digital books are much more flexible, offering the reading in different languages and level of difficulty. Meringer replied that they are actively considering digital books for the future.

High school requests for FY20

Janger reported on the high standing of Arlington High among other high schools, including ranking ninth among all public high schools in the state.

Quickly, he moved to what he referred to as “the begging part.” Apologizing “for a high number of requests,” he explained they were driven primarily by “an enrollment growth which continues to be high and unpredictable” and the desirability to “move from punitive discipline to positive behavior support,” a move that will require more resources. Enrollment is anticipated to increase by 43 students the next year. Current enrollment is 1,381.

Moreover, the condition of the building and the inability of the budget to fulfill previous “asks,” he said makes needs at the High School much greater for fiscal 2020.

Staffing requests are detailed in the chart embedded in his formal report. Read the full report >> 

Because of understaffing, the high school will need two full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers plus three more for additional classes. In addition, it will need two FTE teachers for the Compass Program, and 0.6 of a team chair and a service-only team chair to take care of those student in independent schools. Additionally, a 0.5 FTE secretary will be required to maintain the house system, he said.

Other than staffing needs, the high school will require upgrades in the physical plant, including the digital media/CADD lab and the music tech lab. Janger reminded the committee that students will have to use the building for the next four to seven years, and all the restrooms need repairs. In addition, with the increased enrollment, three new classrooms will need furniture.

Compass Program draws scrutiny

Kardon inquired as to the need for the Compass Program when it duplicates much of what is done by the LABB Program which is held offsite. He recommended that the committee needs to have a much broader discussion about the Compass Program.

Member Jeff Thielman brought up the issue of class sizes and asked about the class enrollment in advanced-placement and honors classes. Janger replied that the problem of class sizes is not reflected by standardized test scores, because the teachers cover the required material very well. The downside is that with larger classes, teachers are unable to “go deeper into the subject matter.”

While acknowledging that test scores have limitations in reflecting deeper learning, Chair Kirsi Allison-Ampe asked whether the innovative inclusion program, which includes some students with learning issues in the regular classes, results in high MCAS scores for those students. “Yes,” Janger said.

AEA requests for FY20

Jason Levy, the president of the AEA, the teachers' union, presented what the teachers required for the next year. Much of what they seek echoes principals' requests, and in some areas exceeds them. Read the full report >> 

Two important additions to the “ask” lists of the principals are the requests for a “Gifted and Talented Program” and replacement of teachers’ laptops but not with Chromebooks.

Levy reported that the teachers feel they cannot meet the educational needs of the more advanced students. Thus, they would like the development of a Gifted and Talented Program by next year.

Chromebooks, Levy explained, do not allow the teacher to show DVDs and lack many features for academic work. The teacher are requesting more appropriate laptop replacements.

Tech report requested

Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. said that replacing teachers’ computers with Chromebooks, he explained, “allow us to reduce cost.” He speculated that perhaps the teachers do not know how to use them and suggested training sessions.

Allison-Ampe then recommended to MacNeal that he present a technology report to the committee at its next meeting, Dec. 20. It was decided that would be too soon, but there will be one before a future budget meetings.

The meeting concluded as Janger gave a brief justification of two parts to the rebuild project that would not be funded by the state agency, the Mass. School Building Authority, because plans do not comport with agency guidelines for what is educationally necessary -- building a 900-seat auditorium rather than one for 750 seats and a 1,600-square-foot gym rather than one for 1,200 square feet.

In both cases, Janger argued that the extra space would be needed in the future. The high school's Lowe Auditorium has 900 seats, which is filled for performances. He added that the current 1,200-square-foot gym “is not big enough." A larger proposed gym would allow for an indoor track and dividing the gym for two simultaneous gym classes, he said.

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Jo Anne Preston was published Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018.

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