The Halifax School Committee began their Monday, January 6 meeting with a review of the budget. The meeting was the last for Superintendent Joy Blackwood before her retirement. Blackwood said that herself, new superintendent (former assistant superintendent) Jill Proulx, and Director of Business Services Christine Healy have been working on five budgets simultaneously.
The Halifax Finance Committee requested a level service budget during a meeting with administrators. As a result, requests for additional staff were not included in the budget being presented Monday. Those requests include an additional teacher for a much larger than average class size, a math coach, and a band teacher. Currently band is offered after school only and at a cost. Blackwood would like to see the program reinstated during school hours in order to allow all students to participate and level the playing field. It would be a shared position between Halifax and Dennett Elementary in Plympton. Kingston brought band back this past year.
Halifax Elementary School principal Kayne Beaudry developed three options to fulfill the need for additional help with the large grade. The most obvious, but most expensive, option would be to hire a new classroom teacher. Another option would be to move a classroom teacher from a grade with a lower enrollment, in this case the current kindergarten class. Another option for the current school year would be to reassign some support staff.
Blackwood said that the budget reflects a 65 percent reimbursement from Circuit Breaker, the state special education reimbursement program, although that number could be as high as 72 percent. According to Blackwood the special education numbers reflect that the school is meeting the current and anticipated needs of all students.
Four students are graduating from the out of district vocational program. Three spots will be saved for students that will potentially apply before the deadline in April. Unless someone moves into the town, $27,000 will be returned from this account to the town.
Utilities decreased substantially for the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget thanks to the new roof, new siding, and new doors. “Halifax invested heavily in this building and it is really reflected; we’re actually seeing real numbers… it’s pretty exciting to be able to say that and that’s not a sentence I can say in any other district.”
Enrollment in Halifax has been decreasing over the last ten years. In 2010 enrollment at Halifax Elementary stood at 652 and by 2019 it was down to 586. The same trend is seen for Halifax students at the secondary level. Homeschool enrollment has been holding steady around 5 students for the last few years. Additionally, 10 Halifax students attend school out of the district through school choice. The town receives no Chapter 70 funding for students attending school elsewhere (either through school choice or homeschooling). The good news is that the lower enrollment numbers mean a decrease in the assessment for Halifax whereas Kingston will see an increase.
The busing number that is currently in the budget is just a placeholder and Blackwood said that they hope to have a final number by February. There are no retirements in Halifax and thus there will be no cost savings related to that.
“We’re coming in at a very reasonable percentage increase, I think,” Blackwood said of the increase of 2.18 percent in the proposed budget thus far.
Halifax Elementary School Chairman Summer Schmaling gave an update on the Halifax Youth and Recreation Department (HYRD). Director Dick Steele said they are moving into their winter phase with both town basketball and travel basketball kicking off.
Steele also extended a thank you to the school for the use of their facilities as well as the additional help they provide to make Holidays in Halifax a success. Steele will be in touch with school building administrators about redoing the floor in the gym during April vacation. The next big event on the radar for the department will be the egg hunt in March.
Beaudry reported on recent and upcoming events at the school. Beaudry spoke highly of the winter concert led by music teacher Brenda Lessard and performed by the chorus. “It is great to get everybody in the gymnasium all together,” Beaudry said.
A new event this year was the MARC (Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center) Assembly. MARC is part of Bridgewater State and the assembly, which is presented by a Bridgewater State student, focuses on anti-bullying and anti-cyber-bullying. “The presenter was amazing, really kind of knew all the current lingo and terminology and talked to the students on their level,” Beaudry told the committee.
The MCAS calendar is out and is available on the school website. The testing window for English and Language Arts (ELA) will be from April 13 to May 1. Math testing will be held from May 5 to May 15 and science for Grade 5 will be on May 19.
At the close of the meeting, Schmaling took the time to thank Blackwood for her years of dedication saying, “I’m grateful for you always being there, being a mentor… asking and answering any questions that we might have. I really appreciate and value our relationship and everything that you’ve done to support our committee and our town and our children both in this town and throughout the entire district… the amount of manpower and hours and dedication that you bring to our community doesn’t go unnoticed.” Blackwood said, “Thank you, it’s been an honor and a privilege. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here in the district and it really has meant the world to me to be your superintendent.”