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NRSD to request state help in assessing NRHS… Dec. 6 2017

W NashobaColorReduced pre-k slots/classes approved

By Ann Needle

At its Nov. 29 meeting, the Nashoba School Committee gave administration the go-ahead to request help from the state on a possible building project for Nashoba Regional High School. The SC also approved a proposal to reduce the number of slots and classes available in next year’s pre-school program across the district.

What to do with the NRHS building will now be a question for Massachusetts. The SC voted unanimously to direct Superintendent Brooke Clenchy to submit a statement of interest in state funds from the MA School Building Authority to address the high school’s space and structural issues. The vote came after the SC’s Facility Advisory Subcommittee recommended submitting an SOI. School Committee Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton mentioned that the temporary subcommittee — including residents and some SC members — was charged with deciding whether to submit an SOI based on reports regarding the high school building’s issues.

Facility Advisory Chair Bob Czekanski of Bolton told the committee that his subcommittee voted “overwhelmingly in favor” of recommending the SOI. He stressed that the SOI is simply a statement to the MSBA to say Nashoba would like to engage the state in helping address the high school building’s problems. In turn, the MSBA, if interested, will send analysts to NRHS to evaluate the structure, Czekanski said. The MSBA will ask Nashoba to provide a general list of issues, but will reach its own conclusions. At that point, if invited to submit a Feasibility Study (about 8 to 10 months later), Czekanski noted, that would be the first time in the state process that Nashoba would need to spend money.

Of the seven criteria the MSBA uses to evaluate whether to move a district into the feasibility study phase, Nashoba fits “at least two of those very solidly” – age-related Science lab and mechanical issues – according to Czekanski.

Clenchy said the MSBA announced it is opening the next SOI acceptance period in early January. The Facility Advisory’s Liz Cammilleri, a Bolton resident, remarked of the subcommittee’s recommendation, “It was very clear to me that we needed to do something.”

Pre-K Cuts Approved

Pointing to the need to better service the district’s special education pre-kindergarten students, Nashoba Director of Pupil Personnel Services Joan DeAngelis recommended two major changes to the pre-school program come August 2018.

Before DeAngelis presented her report, Brooke Clenchy emphasized that the presentation was part of the district’s effort to closely examine the philosophy of Nashoba pre-K and kindergarten, and would not focus on cost. Pre-school families currently pay tuition ranging from $1,960 to $8,820 annually per child, which Clenchy stressed does not cover the entire cost of the class. Special Ed students attend for free under the law.

In the first major change recommended, DeAngelis advised Nashoba to cut a number of slots for the 2018/19 year. Pre-K is integrated between typical (“role model”) and special education students, required by state law. Legally, Nashoba also must limit the number of role models there are relative to the number of SPED children in a class. However, DeAngelis pointed out that pre-K enrollment  for Special Ed students has been too low to maintain the role model-to-SPED ratio.

Currently, there are 97 role models and 13 openings for those students in this year’s pre-school class. Among SPED pre-schoolers this year, there are 29 students and 29 openings. DeAngelis has proposed reducing the total number of role model slots to 58 and the number of SPED slots to 48 for August. Nashoba Early Childhood Coordinator Cynthia Maxfield mentioned that the cutback should leave enough room for current pre-K role model students, after accounting for those moving on to kindergarten.

The other change DeAngelis recommended was going to fewer program options. Currently, families can choose between three half-day programs (2, 3, or 4 half-days per week), or a 5-day, full-day class. DeAngelis said that, studying the program, her department found a number of similarities, and recommended eliminating the 2- and 4-day per week half-day classes. This will leave the Pre-K program options for next year at either a 3-day-per-week half-day class or a 5-day full-day class.

DeAngelis also outlined  how some of the specific SPED pre-school programs will be moved permananetly between schools, in order to help keep from having to transport some students between programs at different schools. For instance, some SPED pre-schoolers are currently  transported between the Little Links program at Bolton’s Florence Sawyer School, then to Little Links 1 at Lancaster’s Mary Rowlandson Elementary. DeAngelis reflected, ”I don’t like to move our highest-needs students a lot.” These classes were separated partly due to space issues, until now, she added.

After extensive discussion, the SC voted unanimously to accept the proposal, agreeing that it fulfills the mission of an integrated pre-school for SPED students.

Troubling Trend for Grants

Looking at the latest outlook for the 2018/19 school year budget, Clenchy called attention to what she termed a troubling trend in state and local grants for Nashoba. She reported that the state did not renew several grants into next school year, leaving a potential budget shortfall of more than $113,500 in both fiscal year 2018 and 2019. One example Clenchy pointed to is an almost $28,000 grant for SPED Program Improvement that the district has come to rely on –  the state Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education just informed Nashoba that it will not be coming through.
Clenchy said that state grants seems to be dissolving in other state districts as well, with little idea from the state as to why, and no word on whether the trend will continue.

Finally, Lorraine Romasco noted that the SC’s annual Budget Workshop has been moved to Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, from the originally-scheduled Jan. 13 (which is on a holiday weekend). The Workshop, at the Emerson School in Bolton, is expected to take most of the morning, and a start time will be announced soon, Romasco added.