Like much of the state, Plympton is facing sharp cuts to their previously agreed upon school budget due to the economic strain brought on by the pandemic.
Director of Business Services Christine Healy prepared a version 5 of the budget in collaboration with school committee Chair Jon Wilhelmsen and the Plympton selectmen. The revised budget, which was presented during the Monday, June 1 Plympton School Committee meeting, represented a 1.64 percent increase over the fy20 budget. The town of Plympton capped all salary increases at a cost of living increase of 1.6 percent and requested the same of the school budget. The budget previously voted on by the committee represented a 3.74 percent increase.
Wilhelmsen summarized the goals of the revised budget as threefold – preserve the positions of all teachers currently on staff, minimize disruption to the Dennett, and “make sure we are doing right by the students.” Much of the previous 3.74 percent increase came from a request for a new special education teacher which had the support of both the committee and the town. Fraser explained that the addition of the special education teacher is likely a cost savings as the lack of a position would likely necessitate students seeking an education that meets their needs outside of the Dennett. According to Fraser, it would cost a minimum of $60,000 to send a student to the collaborative or upwards of $100,000 if that student were to go the private route. The revised budget maintained this new position as well as that of a retiring kindergarten and music teacher.
Retirements did provide some level of savings when revising the budget. There were a few other individual line items that were cut but the bulk of the savings came from utilities and vocational. Fraser shared his concern with just how tight the budget had become. Wilhelmsen agreed but acknowledged that it was what the town had asked them to deliver. Wilhelmsen also stressed that decreases in state aid, the extent of which are still unknown, will significantly impact both what the school is able to do as well as the town. In order to preserve the current staff, Fraser recommended a hiring freeze for the two positions becoming available through attrition until more data is received from the state.
The committee decided to keep the budget at 1.64 rather than try to cut the remaining $1,300 from the budget. They unanimously voted through the regular day elementary operating budget of $2,441,399, the special education budget of $1,186,396, and the out of district vocational budget of $90,000.
School Committee Openings and Town Election
School committee member Jill Palenstijn, who had previously taken a leave of absence, submitted a letter of resignation thus opening a spot on the Plympton School Committee. Since there is only a year left on Palenstijn’s term and the ballot has closed for this year’s town election, it will be an appointed position. The school committee and the Board of Selectmen will need to hold a joint meeting to appoint a new member.
Of the town election, Wilhelmsen said that almost nobody is on the ballot not for a lack of trying but rather for a lack of ability to get and submit papers. This situation will necessitate write-in campaigns and those wishing to serve will need to communicate that to residents. Wilhelmsen expressed desire to continue to serve as Chair of the school committee. Fraser said, “I would absolutely nominate you for that position and would thank you for another year of your time.”
Plymouth County, who is distributing the federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), has requested that all four school districts in Halifax, Plympton, and Kingston submit their requests in one list. There will be a joint meeting next Tuesday night with the school committees to put together a list of requisition items for the four districts. The Plymouth County treasurer has been invited.
Technology Director Steve Pellowe and Administrator of Special Education Marie Grable have both been consulted regarding possible requests for adaptive technology. The hope would be that such technology would be able to better assist students with special needs should the need for remote learning resume next year. Wilhelmsen said that since none of these items are included in the school budget, the funding through CARES is going to prove incredibly important.
Remote Learning Update
Dennett Elementary School Principal Peter Veneto gave a brief update on remote learning. He lauded Pellowe, who has assisted Veneto in the distribution of chromebooks and other necessary equipment. Veneto was also quick to praise students, their families, and his staff. “The teaching staff has been hitting homeruns left and right,” Veneto said.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch gave an update on the credit/no credit form of report cards that are to be issued. He praised Curriculum Coordinator Melissa Farrell for her support of the elementary school teachers.
Superintendent Jill Proulx thanked Veneto and his staff for participating in the senior parade. “I know it did my heart good,” Proulx said.