Chair of the Plympton School Committee Jon Wilhelmsen updated selectmen at their Monday, July 20 meeting on the plan for restarting school in the fall. Wilhelmsen said that the school is required to submit a preliminary plan to the state by July 31 that accounts for all three possible scenarios – in-person, remote, and a hybrid approach. Wilhelmsen told selectmen, “It’s a little bit of a fool’s errand for the first of those.”
Wilhelmsen said even if there is a full return, it would “not be a return to normal; it would be a return to different.” The administration is focusing a lot of their efforts on the remote learning aspect as Wilhelmsen said that it will likely be the backbone of whatever plan is put into place.
Working groups have been established to devise the plan. According to Wilhelmsen the top two priorities are providing an education that ensures academic growth and balancing safety and risk to keep everyone as safe as possible. Wilhelmsen said that there will likely be an element of choice involved as some families may need to opt for remote schooling due to high-risk family members or other extenuating circumstances. He also said that there likely isn’t the physical space required to have all students back in school while upholding social distancing requirements. Possible advantages for Dennett include the HVAC system that circulates air to individual rooms as opposed to throughout the whole building as well as the smaller student population compared to neighboring towns.
Selectman Christine Joy asked if the school has the technology in place to meet the needs of students and teachers. Wilhelmsen said that CARES Act funds were used to purchase additional chromebooks but said that the administration needs to evaluate the technology available in terms of which platform would best support remote learning.
The Plympton School Committee will be holding meetings throughout the summer to allow the administration to provide updates to the committee. The public is encouraged to attend as the meetings are held virtually. There likely won’t be a clear picture of what the return to school will look like until well into August. Later in the meeting Joy would say that her rave for the week is for “The parents, teachers, school committees, administration, and everybody who’s trying to navigate in these incredibly difficult times… these people are working so hard to come up with a workable solution.”
$18,000 FEMA grant for hazard mitigation
Town Administrator Elizabeth Dennehy said that Plympton was the recipient of an $18,000 FEMA grant that would enable them to update the town’s hazard mitigation plan. Currently the town doesn’t have its own stand-alone plan but rather a sub section in the regional plan which was created in 2015. The grant would allow for a consultant to walk the town through the project and create the plan. Dennehy said that she had one response to her RFQ from Woods Hole Group for $17,730 to complete the project in its entirety. On Dennehy’s recommendation, the Board awarded the project to them.
Dennehy told the Board that all three lots on Prospect Rd. have now been successfully sold and that as of that morning, the town treasurer was in receipt of those payments. The funds from the sale of the three lots will be put toward the repayment of the bond that was taken out in 2018 to secure the purchase of Two Brooks Preserve. Selectmen Chair Mark Russo said, “Thank God, it’s done… with this we get to now look forward to hopefully retiring the bond that’s due in October.” Russo said that even with the sales and some additional fundraising they will likely still be around $25,000 short. The hope is that the Board and the Finance Committee will allow an amount under $25,000 to be borrowed from the Capital Stabilization Fund. An amount in excess of $25,000 would require a vote at town meeting.
Dennehy also told the Board that the eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) threat for Plympton has been raised to moderate due to a positive mosquito sample having been found in nearby Carver. “Mosquitos don’t know town boundary lines,” Dennehy joked. She continued, “It is something that everybody needs to remain vigilant about.”
Dennehy said that the townhouse was fogged on July 11. She explained that the plan was to fog the building periodically since it is a reimbursable expense. Dennehy said the decision was made to fog the building as it had not been done since April and the building had been open to the public for six weeks. In another update, Dennehy told the Board that after conferring with town counsel, it was established that town employees that fall under wage and personnel are to be reappointed each year with a select few exceptions including the assistant town clerk who is appointed directly by the town clerk.
Russo provided Dennehy and his fellow selectmen with some highlights from the presentation by the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Senator Michael Rodrigues. Russo credited Senator Michael Brady for putting it together. Rodrigues reminded the audience that a consensus revenue forecast is released each year in December or January which is used to inform the state budget. Back in December, the projected revenue was estimated at $31 billion. After reconvening to re-assess due to the pandemic, it is now believed that the state revenue will be $26 billion leaving a $6 billion shortfall. While it may be possible to pull $2 billion of that shortfall from the rainy-day fund, the remaining amount will need to come from cuts, taxes, or borrowing. Rodrigues made note of the types of cuts that were seen during 2009-2010 when the state faced a similar kind of decline. Cuts were seen to education, transportation, energy, the environment, and healthcare for state employees. Wilhelmsen pointed out that the budgets that the school committees voted on couldn’t really take into account any cuts to education. While the Dennett does not rely heavily on state aid, a large portion of the Silver Lake Regional budget is reliant on it. This could mean cuts to programming, etc., at the middle and high school levels.
Rodrigues also said that the main economic evaluators were unemployment which was around 2.9 percent in December/January and 16.9 percent by May. During the first quarter of 2020, the GDP decreased by 4.8 percent and it is anticipated that by the end of the second quarter that decrease would be over 8 percent. Rodrigues also spoke on the challenges associated with creating a state budget while not knowing the funds that will be available from the federal government.
The Board of Selectmen also voted to appoint Zachary Bowden as a full-time officer in the Police Department to replace another officer who sent in their resignation. They also briefly discussed the possibility of retirement regulations eventually necessitating the search for a new police chief. Dennehy said that Police Chief Matthew Clancy asked that the discussion be tabled until the Board’s August 10 meeting.
North Plympton Cemetery
Selectman John Traynor requested the Board’s permission to work with the owner of the North Plympton Cemetery so that it might be improved. Traynor said that the owner is a woman located in Washington state who is part of a family that has owned the cemetery since the 19th century. Traynor said, “I would like us to be able to take care of it because it is in terrible shape right now.”