The virtual Plympton School Committee meeting on Monday, April 27 began with a public hearing and vote on school choice. No one was in attendance from the public that wished to speak on the matter. Vice Chair Jason Fraser made a motion not to accept school choice for the 2020-2021 school year beyond extending it to the students currently enrolled through the program. Chair Jon Wilhelmsen also pointed out that the incoming Kindergarten class was a large one, by Plympton standards. Wilhelmsen also cited the uncertainty surrounding the budget as yet another reason he was opposed to school choice. The motion not to accept school choice for the upcoming year passed unanimously.
Fraser, who currently serves as a member of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) Board of Directors and is the Division III (southeastern) Chair, has volunteered to serve as secretary/treasurer on the MASC Executive Board. Wilhelmsen made a motion to show the Plympton School Committee’s support for Fraser. “I think not only will MASC benefit greatly from Jason’s expertise, but it also allows our school and our district a persistent voice up at that level and I think that is something that is beneficial to us,” Wilhelmsen said. “Thank you very much for your kind words and I want to acknowledge the support of the Committee and the administrators,” Fraser said. The vote is scheduled for June 23. “Regardless of if I’m nominated to that position by the MASC Nominating Board, I will continue in my role as an officer at the very least and continue to fly the flag of Plympton and Silver Lake at the state and federal level,” Fraser said.
Wilhelmsen said that the two positions coming due on the School Committee are those belonging to himself and Fraser. Both will remain on the Committee until the elections are held.
Fraser said he was in touch with the townhouse regarding pulling papers. He said that regardless of their answer his intention is to run for both seats he holds currently (Plympton School Committee and Silver Lake Regional). “I think that now more than ever it is important for us to have some history and some continuity on the Committee to make sure that we can guide our town through this unchartered territory,” Fraser explained.
Wilhelmsen led the discussion on the budget for fiscal year 2021. The Finance Committee recommended that the special education stabilization fund of $1,000, the quinquennial cistern inspection and cleaning in the amount of $5,000, and a group of technology expenses totaling roughly $21,000 would best be handled as articles at the special town meeting.
Those articles have been drafted and provided to the town. It was further decided that curriculum expenses totaling $15,500 for social studies grades 3 and 6 and math resources would best be handled within the budget. Director of Business Services Christine Healy said she would tweak the budget per those recommendations. Healy also said that there is a savings of $12,000 as a result of the new bus contract.
Wilhelmsen said he is having regular discussions with Town Hall and mentioned that the warrant could potentially be stripped down to essential items only such as the budget.
“We’re pretty well insulated at the local level for receipts because most of our income at a local level comes from property taxes but we do receive a substantial amount of funds from the state level and right now at FY20, which ends on June 30, they’re predicating between a $300 and $700 million deficit for this year,” Fraser explained.
“The Governor has given his word that he does not plan on doing any 9C cuts to this year and will pull from the rainy-day fund to supplement the budget if necessary,” he continued.
Fraser said that things are more unclear for the FY21 budget at the state level. Last year’s budget was $44 billion dollars at the state level and, according to Fraser, “there are numbers right now floating around… the most conservative number I’ve heard is a $2 billion shortfall compared to the $44 billion dollar budget at the state level but I’m hearing some people on the fringes using numbers much, much larger than that.”
With the House 1 budget thrown out, Fraser said that the state doesn’t believe they will have numbers for municipalities to work from until early May at the earliest. Fraser said that a lot of towns and regional schools are looking to going to a 1/12 budget as a result.
“Regardless of where we end up, we could be looking at a 2-4% decrease in state aide or it could be much, much more dire than that,” Fraser said. Plympton’s school likely won’t benefit from the CARES Act passed at the federal level.
Dennett Elementary School Principal Peter Veneto was unable to attend the meeting so Superintendent Jill Proulx provided an update in his stead.
Proulx said that according to Veneto, the vast majority of families are working really hard with teachers to make remote learning successful. She also said that Veneto has been meeting weekly with the special education team, response to intervention groups, as well as each individual grade level. Proulx said, “he gives all the credit in the world to his teachers for their efforts and dedication.”
Proulx spoke on the survey that was sent to staff, secondary students, and parents to gauge how the remote learning was working.
“We would like to begin by thanking our school committee, our students, our parents, and our staff for their patience and their assistance in helping us through this transition. It has truly been a team effort and we cannot thank you enough for your support and your kindness and your teamwork throughout all of this,” Proulx said.
Key takeaways from the survey include working with the staff to streamline communications and make sure that the district is using best practices for remote learning, as well as continuing to revisit and revise as needed. Proulx said that they will also be incorporating updated guidance from the state into their remote learning plan.
A second set of surveys will be sent out in mid-May. Proulx also said that another item being looked at right now by the administration is reentry; both what that will look like as well as what expenses may be related to it.
“I just wanted to say how appreciative I was of the surveys that you put out…I shared out some of the data that we received and other communities all around us on the South Shore asked if they could have your surveys…. I’m very thankful to hear that you’re going to do a second round to continue that two-way dialogue,” Fraser said to Proulx.
Wilhelmsen praised a video that was created by teachers and other staff members at Dennett Elementary to reach out to their students.
He said the video was noticed even outside of the district. He described it saying it was, “what the kids needed at that point, just to be able to see everyone… it was very well done.”