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School Committee Takes on the 2011-2012 School Budget

Redistricting Proposal is Examined

Spring is almost upon us and for the School Department, that means it is budget season. While residents are anticipating the first glimpses of crocuses peeking through their snow encrusted yards, the School Committee is contemplating a budget that tops $38 million.  At this week’s School Committee meeting, members heard from Director of Finance and Operations, Craig Robinson, as he summarized the budgets for the Marshall Simonds Middle School, Burlington High School and the athletics program.

Burlington School Budget At A Glance*

Total Budget

$38,317,005

professional salaries

69.5%

support salaries

13.6%

contracted services (gas, electrical, etc.)

10.6%

transportation

2.7%

supplies

2.2 %

text books

.9%

equipment

.6%

*These are projected numbers and have not yet been approved by either the School Committee or Town Meeting.

Marshall Simonds Middle School principal Richard Connors joined Robinson as they discussed the school’s budget. The proposed budget came in at the guideline of 1.6 percent above last year. The school’s population has remained stable and thus Connors is requesting the same number of teachers and permanent substitutes.  Connors expects little turnover and stated that the school’s schedule will remain largely unchanged. When asked about the renovations that will begin next year, Connors seemed unfazed and said he did not expect any major disruptions to the students’ experience.

“Our job is to predict issues and resolve them before they become problems,” said Connors.

Connors did allude to two issues that the administration is working on. He stated that the school cafeteria will not be operational for part of the 2011-2012 school year and that provisions will have to be made for providing students with a hot lunch. In addition, the administration is working to develop a safe and efficient way for buses to drop off and pick up students while the front of the school is inaccessible.

Joanne Frustaci, parent of a middle school student, asked Connors about professional development focused on differentiated learning in the classroom. Frustaci noted that Vice Principal Noreen Abati expressed support for the idea in a recent meeting. Superintendent Eric Conti suggested that if this is a priority for the school, Connors should include it in his School Improvement Plan and the School Department would work to provide the necessary funds.

School Committee Chairman Christine Monaco questioned Connors on the possibility of extending the practice of leveling students in mathematics down to the seventh grade. Currently only eighth grade students are leveled for math. Connors replied that he intends to discuss this topic with seventh grade teachers next week. Many neighboring school districts such as Bedford, Lexington, Billerica and Wilmington offer leveling of math in seventh grade.

Burlington High School’s budget came in at less than 1% over last year’s budget.  Contracted services and supply costs are down although equipment costs will rise.  The department will reduce staffing by one permanent substitute teacher.  The School Committee posed few questions, and applauded the efforts of Principal Larkin for keeping the increase under 1 percent.

Ways and Means Committee Member Robert Schlansky queried the administration on when the Town could expect to see a reduction in the costs of text books due to the 1:1 initiative.  Conti replied that this is a transitional year and major cost savings would not appear this early in the program. In time, he stated, the budget for texts will be reduced as will the expenditures for paper and printers, but the technology budget will rise.

Robinson then presented the budget for athletics which totals $761,500, an increase of 2.25 percent over last year’s budget. Most of the increase, according to Robinson, is for higher transportation costs of busing athletes to various sporting events.

“Burlington is very fortunate that the community is able to fund athletics without user fees. It’s the most equitable way to deliver physical education to students,” observed School Committee member Steve Nelson. “I don’t think it’s right to charge students to participate in these activities.”

In a follow-up interview on Wednesday, March 9th, Nelson was asked about his position on requiring students in other extracurricular activities to raise funds to support their clubs. The example cited was the BHS Robotix Club, which receives no funding from the school department and students are required to solicit area businesses to pay the entrance fees for contests.

Nelson replied “I would certainly look favorably on a request for funding by a club such as the Robotix club, and I am sure the School Committee would give it serious consideration.”

Way and Means committee members Kristen Russo, Tom Killilea and Bill Beyers were also in attendance at Tuesday night's meeting. Beyers and Killilea requested that the administration provide information on its revolving accounts such as the daycare center and cafeteria accounts. Robinson agreed to bring these figures to the March 22nd School Committee meeting.

The School Committee also discussed the proposed redistricting plan for elementary school students in 2011-2012.  Robinson presented the schedule for redistricting implementation.

Redistricting Schedule

March 3

School vote on Redistricting Plan

March 22

School Committee to vote on redistricting plan

March 28

Letter to parents – elementary students

April 15

BEA informed about the number of teacher transfers

April 18

Out of zone requests due from parents

April 25

Finalize enrollments

April 29

Teacher transfer requests due at Superintendent’s office

May 2

Principals and administration meet to develop teacher teams

May 16

Student and teacher placement finalized

 

The Committee discussed the methods of communicating the redistricting plans and were informed that all four elementary schools have large color maps showing the new districts and the principals have preliminary lists of the effected students.

Residents from Chester Avenue and the surrounding streets stepped forward to express their concerns over the plan.  Under the new plan, the neighborhood is split with some children attending Pine Glen and others moving to Fox Hill. Member Murphy explained that while he sympathized with parents’ concerns, that the line has to be drawn somewhere.

“Our problem is no matter where we draw the line, there will be people on either side of that line. From our standpoint, no matter what we do someone is going to be sitting in your chair unhappy about it,” said Murphy.

Member Monaco requested that the administration consider the concerns of this neighborhood very carefully before presenting the final plan on March 22nd.

At the end of the meeting, the Board voted to approve a new guide/assistant dog policy which is required by the state and must be approved by March 15th. The Board waived their normal two reading policy and voted unanimously to approve the new policy.  Conti advised the Board that a new concussion policy is also required by the Commonwealth.  The details of that policy will be presented at the March 22nd meeting.

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