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Nashoba Works on Assessments…Feb. 24, 2016

By Ann Needle
Next year’s hike in the Nashoba District budget might not be substantial, but the School Committee still questioned whether the towns would find the potential assessments affordable. The SC also focused its Feb. 17  Budget Workshop on learning more about particular items proposed by three of the district’s bigger departments.

Assistant Superintendent George King estimated the district’s 2016/17 budget showed a 3.4 percent hike as of last week, with an average assessment increase of 5.2 percent across the three Nashoba towns. However, should the SC adopt all of the administration’s suggested cuts, King reported the budget would instead go up about 2.8 percent, and the average assessment would increase 4.3 percent. The current year’s $53 million budget was up 4.2 percent over the previous year (2014/15).

Potential cuts King laid out included combining the custodial services manager and a part-time assistant’s positions at the Facilities office; trimming a paraprofessional position at Hale Middle School, along with a kindergarten teacher at Bolton’s Florence Sawyer School, due to changes in enrollment; putting off a suggested scanning of Human Resources records by the Technology Dept.; and level funding of Music at Hale.
Looking at the custodial service manager’s job, Lancaster Rep. Kathy Codianne maintained that reducing the $74,000 salary in a reorganization would be preferable to taking money away from items directly affecting student learning. However, King said he opposed the move, wary of creating too much work for one person.

Eliminating the teaching positions make sense if Hale’s population stays the same (as expected), and if the number of incoming kindergarteners at FSS is as low as anticipated, said King. He reported that the FSS cut would leave three teachers for anywhere from 46 to 58 incoming students, so they need a more definite number before making a staff change.

While the SC did not make a decision on whether to adopt any of these cuts, SC Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton remarked that she felt her town may have a tough time accepting any assessment hike over 4 percent.  Stow Rep. Mark Jones said Stow town administration would likely be happy if the assessment hike stayed below 5 percent.

Close-Up On Key Departments
As was done with the Nashoba school principals at the Feb. 11 SC meeting, the heads of Nashoba’s Facilities, Special Education, and Technology departments explained some of the key details behind their budget requests.

Nashoba Director of Facilities Bill Cleary reported his proposed budget for 2016/17 is up about $72,000 over this year, a hike of about 3 percent. The drivers behind the numbers include a 16 percent hike in custodial supplies, with more of this money devoted to paper and chemical costs for an increasingly health-conscious school population.

Grounds upkeep has been another budget driver, up an estimated $12,000 for next school year as demand grows to host events on Nashoba’s fields, Cleary said. This maintenance would include more rubber and a deep cleaning for the almost 5-year-old turf field at Nashoba Regional High School. Stow Rep. Lynn Colletti remarked that the turf field was touted as a long-term money-saver, but “it’s costing a fortune. We’re dipping our toe in and we’re over our heads.”

Cleary also mentioned several security upgrades requested for NRHS, including a $135,000 upgrade of the security cameras, about $45,000 to revamp the fire alarm system, and $52,000 to install the radio amplifying system the school resource officer needs to communicate directly with the Bolton Police.

Turning to special education, Director of Special Education Tracy Conte noted that the out-of-district tuition budget has been rising with the number of higher-needs children going up in the district. She estimated that educating a severely disabled SPED student out of district runs between $250,000 and $350,000 annually per child. She stressed that Nashoba aims to educate SPED students in-district, but that is not always possible.

For in-district SPED students, Conte said they could likely use more intensive reading help. Conte also observed that, with Nashoba seeing an increasing number of older students diagnosed with social-emotional disorders, the district might consider adding programs teaching emotional coping skills in the early grades. Answering Kathy Codianne’s question, Conte said it is too early to tell whether the district’s growing emphasis on “response to intervention” (identifying students early on who could be at risk of not graduating from high school) is influencing SPED referrals.

Meanwhile, Technology Manager Su Qi explained that his department was forced to switch to a new—and more expensive— server host company this year, given the former host would limit user access when Nashoba was straining the company’s bandwidth. The new company has promised unlimited access, he said. Qi also noted there will be a big jump in computer software and licensing, from $73,000 to $125,000. Given that hike,  Lorraine Romasco commented that administration should take a closer look at whether each software subscription in the district is being used to capacity.

The SC will continue working on the budget at its Feb. 25 meeting. There will be a public hearing on the final proposed budget on March 3, with the SC planning to vote March 10 on the final budget.