Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch led the discussion on the Student Opportunity Act and what it means for Halifax during the Monday, March 2, Halifax School Committee meeting. The Student Opportunity Act, signed into law in November of 2019, rethinks the allocation of Chapter 70 funding throughout the state per the recommendation of the 2015 State Foundation Budget Review Committee. It has had the greatest impact on state education funding since the inception of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act in 1993.
Lynch explained that districts receiving less than $1.5 million in additional funds are required to produce a student opportunity plan known as the short form while districts receiving greater than $1.5 million must produce the long form. Halifax falls into the former category earning about $30 per student totaling $17,580. Under the Act, 85 percent of the funding was awarded to a small number of districts that were deemed to be the most in need.
Lynch explained that the student opportunity plan is meant to focus on ways in which to close persistent opportunity achievement gaps. “While this is a required plan, it does align with Halifax’s plan and Silver Lake’s plans to really try and support all students across the board,” Lynch explained. The plan is broken into four parts focusing on 1.) identifying which subgroups are not achieving at the same rate as their peers, 2.) Adopting, deepening, or continuing efforts to close that gap, 3.) Ways in which to monitor the plan and 4.) engaging families and stakeholders in the process. Lynch said that students with disabilities, students in the Title 1 program, and English language learners were all identified as needing additional supports to close the current gap in student achievement. Lynch also said that part of their plan includes the adoption of a new, evidence-based early literacy plan for students.
Principal Kayne Beaudry, Assistant Principal Brian DeSantes, and Superintendent Jill Proulx have recommended continuing with a math interventionist position for the fiscal year 2021 budget. The position was previously funded through Title I but won’t be for the upcoming year. A member of the public present at the meeting asked what kind of success the school has seen as a result of the position that would justify continuing with it despite needing to now fund it through the budget. Proulx said that curriculum coordinator Melissa Farrell, who was not present, would be best suited to answer the question with specifics. Proulx did stress, however, the importance of interventionists who can work alongside teachers in an inclusive classroom. “One of the things that we have talked about and focused on is really the need for push in rather than pull out. As research shows us, when we work with students in the classroom as opposed to sending them out for interventions, student achievement tends to grow,” Proulx explained.
Lynch explained that the state asks districts for specific metrics that can be used to measure success. Lynch said that ELA achievement on the MCAS as well as math achievement are two of the metrics that Halifax will be using. Halifax School Committee Chair Summer Schmaling asked that some metrics be used that are not test scores as not all students are good test takers.
Both Lynch and Proulx said that they are eager to find out from families what additional supports they may need. There will be a meet and greet with Proulx and Lynch on March 18 with a session beginning at 3 p.m. and another at 5:30 p.m. The finalized plan must be submitted by midnight on April 1.
A member of the public and father of children at Halifax Elementary attended the meeting Monday to address his concerns over bullying at the school. The father said that he had been a part of a heated conversation on Facebook regarding bullying and “wanted to at least show everyone who I was so I’m not just sitting behind a keyboard.” He also said that he had been encouraged by a recent meeting he had with both the principal and assistant principal. He emphasized how important communication between parents, teachers, and students is to fixing the problem. Schmaling said, “Thank you for coming, there is nothing worse than a keyboard warrior… you’re sending a powerful message.”
Proulx presented a draft of the schedule for next year. Proposed in-service days for teachers would be August 31, September 1, November 3, and February 22. The first day of school would be September 2. February vacation will be from February 15 to February 19. Some school committee members asked about the professional development days all falling relatively early in the calendar year. Committee member Alison Vance, however, pointed out that prior to the current year, there were only two in-service days for teachers and they both occurred prior to school starting.
Proulx led the discussion on the budget addressing the need to fund the math interventionist previously funded by Title I. The amount needed to fund the position would be $30,000. Proulx suggested some proposed budget cuts including building cuts totaling $10,000 and another $7,000 in cuts from reducing Grade 3 textbooks and limiting the implementation of classroom materials such as STEM materials. Proulx also said that she requested cuts from technology director Steve Pellowe. Proulx said that she worked with administrators to provide a list of cuts that would have the least impact on student needs. In addition to shrinking Title I funds, Proulx said that Title II A funds are also being reduced. Title II A is currently the only means of funding professional development services.
Vance said that even without cuts, adding the $30,000 to the current budget would still be level service as it is not a new position. Schmaling was also hesitant to make the cuts proposed by Proulx. School Committee member and Halifax Selectman Gordon Andrews said that he felt that the budget was reasonable as is but that adding $30,000 on top of that would likely present a problem. “I think it’s the fiscal reality of what’s happening with the town and what’s happening with the state,” Andrews said.
Proulx pointed out that there may be a savings in the budget once the transportation numbers are actual and the bus contracts finalized. There was also some discussion among the committee members as to whether or not it might make sense to ask the town to reallocate funds from the vocational students back to the schools in order to help fund the math interventionist. School committee member Robert Johnson said that he was not worried about the additional $30,000 given that the overall budget totals more than 8 million dollars.
In the end, the committee voted to approve the budget with the additional $30,000, forgoing the additional cuts proposed by Proulx. The committee voted to approve the 2020-2021 elementary regular day and special education operating budget of $5,871,010. They also voted to approve the elementary out of district special education tuition budget of $1,857,409 and the out of district special education transportation budget of $473,800. The final vote was to approve the out of district vocational education budget of $206,500.