by Ann Needle
In a sometimes spirited debate, Nashoba School District administrators presented the School Committee with a proposed 5.07% increase in its 2015/16 budget. Last Wednesday’s SC meeting also spotlighted an unexpected loss in the current budget.
The current year’s budget was about $46,760,000 before accounting for grants and aid, which was a 3.78% hike over the year before.
Superintendent Michael Wood remarked of the jump from previous years’ budgets, “5% is on the lower end of what I see other districts are proposing.”
One of the bigger budget items Wood pointed to was out- of-district student placements. This quarter, the special education budget showed a $400,000 deficit, with what Wood called an unpredictable spike in the number of district SPED students, some being placed in special programs outside of Nashoba.
Wood also noted that the bus contract will likely cost substantially more, perhaps by 4%. With bus company First Student’s contract expiring in June, he cautioned that, in looking at other districts’ contracts, “What’s out there looks like we’ve had a very nice run.” And, Wood proposed a number of new positions, including two full-time instructors at Center School, one at Hale, and two at Nashoba Regional High School.
At Center, the two positions will be for a newly-created Special Educator (working with at-risk students) and Math Specialist; while Hale’s very large, incoming sixth grade class will receive another full-time teacher, Wood said. He added that the high school’s two new full-timers will be placed wherever enrollment demand is greatest.
The proposed increase in personnel is a key part of meeting the district’s budget goal of putting Nashoba consistently in the top 10% of districts across the state in measures such as MCAS and SAT stores, along with the percentage of college acceptances, Wood stressed.
Among the other budget items Wood cited as routes to meeting the top-10% goal were more collaboration time for teachers. Ideally, this would be one to two additional hours per week district-wide, outside of professional development time, he said. Wood estimated that building in another hour per week would cost the district about $300,000, if it can’t be built into the existing contract.
Technology also figured into the budget goal. Wood listed a number of technology-related goals, including doubling Nashoba’s fiber capacity and assuring staff can use technology more effectively.
Both the SC and audience members questioned Wood closely on a vast variety of items. Concerning technology, Bolton Rep. Lorraine Romasco remarked that district staff often has complaints about Nashoba’s technology capabilities, such as trouble getting onto and staying on the Nashoba Wi-Fi network. Assistant Superintendent George King countered that he has not heard of any issues.
“I don’t want to hear that,” Romasco retorted. “I’m not confident, based on what other people in the district have said, that we have a technology program that will get us to the next level. If you’re not hearing about the concerns, then you need to ask about it.”
As for revenue coming into the district, Wood said there would likely not be any word on Chapter 70 and transportation aid from the state until at least early March. He added that, until then, assessments to district towns were tough to pinpoint.
The next SC meeting will be devoted to Nashoba’s annual Budget Workshop, where each district principal advocates for their school budgets and any additional items. The meeting is on Wednesday, February 11, from 5pm to 8:30pm. (The meeting day is a change from the traditional Saturday date.) Wood noted the budget must be voted on or by the SC’s March 11 meeting.
The $400,000 Deficit
During his report on fiscal year 2015’s second quarter, George King honed in on a $400,000 deficit, most of it in the SPED account and its out-of-district tuition. He attributed the SPED shortfall to factors out of Nashoba’s control, such as students moving into the district, unanticipated student needs, and cost increases. However, the district has some concern that these changes are more long-term, and will need to be considered in future budgets, he said.
Also contributing to the deficit were substitute teachers needed to cover for an unusually high number of long-term absences, King noted.
In helping balance the deficits, King suggested transferring funds from a small surplus in regular salaries, along with one in health insurance. The SC voted unanimously to authorize the transfers.
Modular Classrooms Approved
At its December 17 meeting, the SC voted to accept a two-classroom modular at no cost from the Town of Stow. On Wednesday, the SC approved the spending to move and install the units at the overcrowded NRHS. Wood estimated the move and hook-up would cost a total of about $85,000, and provide classroom space for about 50 students per period.
With Wood suggesting they leave some wriggle room in the cost, the SC voted to authorize up to $100,000. The opposing votes were Stow Reps. Lynn Colletti and Nicole Odekirk, with Colletti objecting to not holding the district to $85,000.
The cost could be built into the capital plan or the 2016 budget, Wood said.
Life-Saving Food Policy
Nashoba will likely have a new policy this year on protecting students with life-threatening food allergies (LTFA). In a presentation by Nashoba Food Allergy Education and Awareness — a group of parents of children with LTFA from Bolton’s Florence Sawyer School — Shawna Croteau explained that the group is looking for Nashoba to develop a new policy, in line with state and federal guidelines, on handling children with LTFA. According to Croteau, between May 2013 and December 2014, “At least two students we know of have experienced reactions requiring Epinephrine [treating life-threatening allergy attacks] while at Nashoba schools.”
The NFAEA group will attend the March 4 Policy Subcommittee meeting, where they will work on generating a policy draft.