The Plympton School Committee held their close-out meeting on Monday, July 15. Attendance was limited with only three committee members present including Chair Jon Wilhelmsen, Amy Hempel, and Jill Palenstijn. Director of Business Services Christine Healy and Superintendent Joy Blackwood also attended.
Wilhelmson had a lengthy meeting with Dennett Elementary Principal Peter Veneto regarding the ongoing issue of lead showing up in the water testing being done at Dennett.
The source of the lead has remained a mystery and has confounded the board for months as the system appears to be working as it should. Additionally, the amount of lead in the water heading into the system is less than the lead that is in the water coming out of the system. Wilhelmson described to the committee his theory about what he believes may be to blame. Every 14 days a backwash cycle is run at night.
Water is pumped backward through the filter during backwashing. The samples that were tested were taken in the morning and Wilhelmson theorizes that if the samples were taken the same day as the backwash cycle, it could explain why the water would be temporarily tainted as it would be pulling in the lead that had been filtered out of the water over the previous two weeks. In order to test this theory, the next step will be to repeat the testing at a time that does not coincide with the backwash cycle.
Vice Chair Jason Fraser was absent but Wilhelmson shared with the committee some notes from Fraser regarding progress on the new playground at Dennett. Veneto and Fraser met to pick a location for the playground based on the land survey that was completed. Since the committee will not meet again until September, they voted to authorize Fraser to proceed however he sees fit to get the playground completed. Superintendent Joy Blackwood commented that given that construction has not yet begun, it is unlikely that the playground will be completed by the beginning of the school year.
An emergency management operations meeting attended by Veneto, Wilhelmson, the police chief, the fire chief, and the highway department was held regarding the power lines. With a generator now at Dennett, the building can be used as an emergency shelter. With only one way in and one way out of the school, however, there is a problem if a tree would be to fall on power lines and block the entrance as has happened in the past. It was agreed upon that a reasonable solution would be to use some grant money that may be able to be acquired to place the power lines underground (as some already are). Wilhelmson, who relayed the idea to the town administrator, said, “Hopefully this is something that we are going to continue to push on and try to affect that change so that we never have that issue that we had before again.”
Healy gave an update on the close-out for the budget. Healy said that $1,507.29 will be returned to the town with $1,198.25 of that coming from special education and $309.04 coming from the regular budget. This is the total after all the transfers were done that were approved at special town meeting. The transfers included money from the out of district vocational fund to the SPED stabilization fund which is now fully funded at $47,000. Other transfers coming from the out of district vocational fund included $10,000 to the operating budget for roof repairs and $8,500 to the operating budget for a new copier. The out of district vocational fund still has a balance of approximately $21,000 after all bills have been paid for the year and the above-mentioned transfers were made. In total, over $22,000 will be returned to the town. Wilhelmson thanked Healy for her work. Healy said, “We have an amazing staff that helps us make that happen and it’s all hands-on deck and I would say since the middle of June it has been we need to make it work and we do.”
School Choice questions
The issue of school choice was also discussed. Plympton, Halifax, Kingston, and Silver Lake Regional school committees make decisions individually regarding whether or not to accept school choice. Currently only Plympton allows it. The committees and administration believed that this meant that once a student who elects to come to Dennett Elementary through school choice is through with their k-6 education, they would have to leave the district as Silver Lake Regional does not allow school choice either at the middle or high schools. Blackwood shared with the committee that she was recently told by DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) that those students would have to be allowed to continue with their education at Silver Lake middle and high schools if that was their preference.
This creates a conflict as the Silver Lake Regional School Committee voted down school choice. There are currently eight students at Dennett Elementary there through school choice with five of those coming from towns within the Silver Lake district anyway (Halifax and Kingston). This means that only three students would fall under the umbrella of school choice for Silver Lake Regional.
Blackwood admitted to not having any definitive information at the moment and said that they are still working their way through this development. Wilhelmson felt that the Plympton School Committee should not be able to obligate the Silver Lake Regional School Committee to take on school choice just as the regional committee should not be able to stop Plympton from accepting it.
A major question arising from this conundrum is who will pay for the students to attend Silver Lake schools beyond sixth grade. Blackwood said she will provide an update to the committee when she knows more.