The Plympton School Committee met on Monday, December 16 to hear presentations from two department heads in addition to the usual updates and upcoming budget discussions.
Dennett Elementary School Principal Peter Veneto gave an update on the events of the past month. Report cards went out on December 9 and the school’s holiday concert was held on December 12. “It’s been a great month,” Veneto said. “We had a ton of parents come in for the Grade 2 Heritage Fair; we’ve seen a lot of parents in the building this month – the parent involvement has been terrific and it just goes to show that they’re very supportive of what goes on here and we’re very happy about that.” Veneto also called the Girl Scouts’ Holiday Craft Fair this past weekend “a huge success.” Plympton School Committee Chair Jon Wilhelmsen also had praise for the Thanksgiving feast held at the school last month. The winter break will be from Monday, December 23 to Friday, December 27.
Director of Business Services Christine Healy gave an update on the financials saying, “We’re progressing very nicely through the year; there have been no unexpected events that we haven’t been able to financially take care of.”
Administrator of Special Education Marie Grable gave a presentation, just as she had done at the Silver Lake Regional School Committee meeting the previous week. Grable began by defining special education as “specially designed instruction to help students with various disabilities anywhere from age 3 through age 22. Our focus is to try and equal the playing field for all students so that they can all access curriculum similar to their non-disabled peers.” Grable stressed the importance of the team in special education saying that it takes the cooperation and efforts of many including the student, parents, the school representative, the evaluation expert, the regular education teacher, the special education teacher, the child expert, and community agencies. At 14, the student becomes a legally recognized member of the team process.
The state gives ten classifications for schools to draw upon to determine if a student is eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Grable said that there are currently 53 students from Plympton, both at Dennett and out of district in K-6, that are receiving services via an IEP. Grable said that the number of students in out of district placements is going down. In fiscal year 2017, there were six out of district placements and in the current year there are only three.
Grable also spoke about the budget for special education tuition and transportation. One of the ways in which special education is paid for is through the state Circuit-Breaker program which reimburses school districts a percentage of the costs over a certain threshold which are accrued educating severely high needs students. For Plympton, that threshold is any amount over $45,792 per student. Out of district tuition for the town of Plympton this year is $535,381 and out of district transportation is $90,000. Some of these costs are offset through Circuit-Breaker. Two entitlement grants, Grant 240 and a smaller Grant 262, also help offset special education costs. According to Grable, the district needs to be cautious of the fact that the 240 grant is diminishing each year. A good portion of the 240 grant money is used toward the paraprofessionals that are working with the students receiving special education services. Grant 262 which targets students ages 3-5, is mainly used toward contracted services at the preschool level. Grable also said that in speaking with Superintendent Joy Blackwood, Assistant Superintendent Jill Proulx, and Principal Veneto about budget preparations they have decided to include a proposal to add a special education teacher.
Grable gave an overview of the post-secondary Pathways program for students aged 18-22 which helps students transition into the community. The students in the Silver Lake Pathways program were acknowledged during a ceremony in November along with their colleagues in the neighboring communities of Carver, Pembroke, Duxbury, Hanover, Marshfield, Plymouth, and Whitman-Hanson. Grable said, “This program is doing such an outstanding job and all of the programs work so well together. Our students are over in Pembroke, and Marshfield, and Hanover, and they’re working alongside the students in some of the other communities in the communities and the workforce.” Grable continued, “I’m so proud of the fact that the school committee and the superintendent have had the vision to allow this program to move forward.”
Technology Director for Silver Lake Steve Pellowe also gave a brief presentation to the committee. Pellowe referred to the department as “small but mighty” saying that they manage over 7,000 individual devices. Pellowe said that the department’s budget is up only $270 from last year. “We try not to ask for more than we need,” Pellowe explained. Vice Chair Jason Fraser said, “It’s amazing what you’ve done with the amount of money you’ve asked us for the years you’ve been here.” “The budget number is ridiculous but in a great and welcoming way,” Fraser continued. Wilhelmsen added, “I think it also speaks to how you are doing your budget.”
Blackwood said that initial budget discussions had already been had for Plympton. The district will be going out to bid for buses. As mentioned during the special education presentation, the addition of a new special education teacher will be proposed. Of the request, Blackwood said, “I fully support and believe this is the right thing to do; I believe it will be a savings to the town once we educate the public to understand what it will mean if we aren’t able to provide those services within the brick and mortar of the Dennett Elementary School.”
Blackwood said there would be a slight increase in maintenance costs for the building. Wilhelmsen said that he thought it best that regular maintenance items be included in the budget while “one-of” maintenance items would best be paid for through special town meeting. Blackwood also announced the retirement of long-time kindergarten teacher Donna Resmini at the end of the school year. Blackwood said that her retirement would be a great loss for the school but did acknowledge that it would result in a roughly $25,000 cost savings to the school.
Blackwood likened the building of a budget to a puzzle and said that they hope to bring forth a budget that is fiscally responsible while still meeting the needs of those in the building.