Mr. Peery reported on the Finance Committee budget meeting last night. The School Committee reported on its progress in putting together the budget.
Mr. Picker said that tonight the School Committee would hear proposals from the administration for potential reductions from the current budget proposal to consider in order to create a budget that will meet the Finance Committee guideline. The School Committee’s task tonight is to understand what is being proposed, to explore the implications of those potential budget modifications, and to provide feedback to the administration.
Mr. Brandmeyer explained that an FY06 budget proposal was presented to the School Committee on October 28 and was explored in great detail on November 4 and November 18. The original Finance Committee guideline for base budgets was 0% growth over FY05. The Finance Committee has recently altered this guideline to 0.6% increase and yesterday to 0.7% increase. The Finance Committee guideline for the Lincoln school budget is $7,931,351. The current budget proposal is $8,601,385. Mr. Brandmeyer said the reductions in the budget proposal being presented tonight would help meet the Finance Committee guideline, but that there were additional reductions that would still need to be considered. He said that these are not reductions that the administration is recommending but are a way to meet the Finance Committee guideline.
Mr. Brandmeyer and the Lincoln School Leadership Team of Donica Hadley, Gian Criscitiello, Patrese Pierson, and Judith Glassman presented the proposed reductions. Mr. Brandmeyer began by recommending two reductions that would not impact the educational program: (1) remaining at 4 kindergarten sections instead of increasing to 5, based on review of census data - $50,300 and (2) eliminating the acoustical retrofit of a preschool classroom which was proposed for a student whose family has chosen not to live in Lincoln - $16,400. He recommended that these specific changes to the budget proposal be adopted.
There was discussion about the census data that supports this change. Mr. Brandmeyer also said that this data will be tracked and that if there were a significant influx of Kindergarteners, he would come back and recommend an added section. He clarified that going to 4 sections of kindergarten does not result in a savings in the proposed budget for kindergarten classroom aids, since they are paid via grant moneys.
Ms. Glassman described the possible cuts in elective programs: (1) eliminating the fall and spring productions and 3rd grade artist in residence program - $9,000, (2) reduction of 0.2 FTE faculty for fall and spring production - $14,800, (3) reducing athletic funding resulting in fees increases from $150 per sport to $225 to $235 - $12,500, and (4) reducing the instrumental music program - $20,000.
The committee discussed these proposals. It discussed possibilities for external funding and asked for consideration of other approaches for reducing the proposed spending in these areas. The committee expressed its strong desire to keep these programs. The committee explored with the Leadership Team the possible tradeoffs between maintaining breadth of curriculum in areas such as performing arts and athletics and maintaining class sizes at or below policy target levels.
Mr. Picker asked for public comments. Barbara Low commented that seeing the performing arts on the list of cuts is extremely disturbing to her and that it is important for children to be involved in the arts. Kathy Rogers asked whether it would be possible to save money by absorbing the elective programs into the school day elective slot. Mr. Brandmeyer replied that some of these programs could be offered in the elective slot but that having the funding to properly staff those slots is a consideration.
Ms. Hadley described two possible cuts in the non-elective program: (1) cutting one second grade teacher leaving three sections instead of four - $50,300 and (2) cutting a second grade classroom assistant - $7,400. Mr. Brandmeyer described the third possible non-elective cut of reducing summer special education funding - $10,000. Mr. Brandmeyer explained that this cut is based on the assumption that one or two eligible students may not attend, as has been the case in the past. The committee discussed the implications of this, and explored the impact on students and teaching staff. The committee also discussed other potential approaches to managing variations in the number of sections per grade, including multi-age/multi-grade classrooms.
Mr. Brandmeyer described a potential cuts in the leadership category. He said that $80,000 could be saved by budgeting only for a two member administrative team. Mr. Brandmeyer said that the he is currently gathering input to help determine the optimum administrative structure for next year and he would prefer to make this decision based on educational values and not purely in financial considerations. The committee discussed this proposal, and explored the workload and roles for the administrative structure of the school. The impact on contact with students, with teachers and with parents was explored. The impact on teacher evaluation and mentoring was discussed. The difference in the leadership role in a small district like Lincoln versus a larger district that provided more specialized support resources was discussed.
Ms. Pierson described the possibility of cutting the math specialist from a full time position to half-time saving $30,200. The committee discussed the impact of this change and explored the benefits that students receive as a result of this position.
Mr. Jack described the possibility of changing the food service from two half time directors to one position with more hours, saving $5,000. The present package is $46,000 for two people. Under this proposal, $5,000 would be saved in Lincoln and $5,000 in Hanscom with a $36,000 cost for the food service director. The committee discussed the implications this change would have on food service at both campuses and the staffing issues that might arise.
Mr. Peery asked whether there might be a time and place for the district to protest against un-funded mandates by deciding to protest certain mandates by not following them. Mr. Brandmeyer, while noting that he and the School Committee have fiduciary responsibilities, said that some school committees and administrators had some success protesting MCAS as a requirement for graduation. He said that the Department of Education could withhold funds for non-compliance.
Cindy Sweetser commented that when the math specialist position was created the middle school math teachers were not in favor of it and that they really wanted more classroom assistants. She said this was intended to be a shot-term investment with long-term gains and that perhaps it was time to let it go. She also commented that she would rather see money spent in the classroom than on a third administrator. Richard Jewett commented that he was skeptical when the math specialist was hired but that he has been pleased with the work of the math specialist and that dropping this position would not serve the school.
Adam Greenberg commented that he felt that more quantitative information about the implications of the proposed changes was needed. Mr. Picker said that the School Committee is working to understand the impact of the proposals, and that some of the impacts could not be quantified. He felt he is getting the information that is needed to guide decision-making. Mr. Peery said that he has heard a lot about the impact of these proposed cuts and that a more quantified response would require too much time to create.
Barbara Low commented that she is in favor of having one principal and one associate principal with more money available for direct services to children.
Laurie Manos said the district continues to need the services of a math specialists. She said she has looked at the MCAS data and that she is concerned about performance in 4th grade level math. Mr. Picker noted that on March 15, 2005 the School Committee is scheduled to explore the math specialist program in more detail. Kathy Rogers asked whether the work of the math specialist could be absorbed by Mr. Naso and the administrative team. Mr. Naso said that, if the specialist is reduced to half-time, he and the principals would take on some of the work but that the benefits would be reduced.
Cuts in support to teachers and programs were discussed next. Mr. Criscitiello described a cut involving eliminating 0.5 FTE Assistant Network Director. This cut of $25,000 would eliminate the position from Lincoln and retain it only at Hanscom. There are currently two fulltime positions, a network director and a network assistant director. This would leave 1.5 for the two schools, with 0.5 for Lincoln. Ms. Hadley described a possible reduction eliminating $20,416 proposed spending for clerical support for special education.
Mr. Naso described a change to not add a part time assistant to support curriculum work. He corrected a mistake in the proposed budget reductions memorandum stating that the reduction in clerical support for curriculum in the central office was a reduction From 0.5 FTE to 0.25 FTE.
Ms. Glassman described the elimination of the METCO Office Assistant saving $11,500. Mr. Criscitiello set forth the $10,000 reduction on special education fees. Mr. Brandmeyer said monies for special education contracted services could be reduced by $5,000 based on current estimates of services that will be needed but that if need were to arise the district would still have to provide services. Ms. Pierson said that $20,000 proposed to update the library could be reduced to $5,000 but expressed the continued need for updating the collection.
The committee discussed the METCO office assistant position and noted that last spring at a School Committee meeting in Boston, 80 to 100 parents present expressed concern over communications breakdowns resulting from having that position vacant at the time.
The committee discussed the technology support needs and situation and explored the impact of the proposed reduction in technology support staff and the staffing problems that could arise from changing a position from full time to half time.
Ms. Sweetser asked whether there would be any cost savings in having one of the METCO bus monitors work during the school day to fill the role of the office assistant. Mr. Brandmeyer said that no savings would arise from this since these are hourly positions, and the number of hours worked would not be reduced.
Mr. Criscitiello described a $29,237 reduction that could arise from reducing the amount requested for school supplies and materials by 12%. Ms. Hadley said that $4,800 could be saved by not buying adjustable basketball rims. The committee discussed the impact that the supplies reduction might have on textbook purchases.
Barbara Low asked whether any savings could be realized by having parents provide necessities such as rulers, scissors, and pads. Mr. Criscitiello said that these types of materials are a very small part of the $29,237 savings.
Mr. Jack described a savings of $60,000 that could be realized be reducing the buses from 8 to 6 and providing transportation only for students mandated by law. He said that the change would affect 170 students, eliminate fee based busing, and create more congestion in the parking lots. The committee explored whether fewer than 6 buses could serve the mandated transportation needs and Mr. Jack said that he did not see this as feasible, as bus run times would become too lengthy.
Mr. Jack described a $10,400 savings that might be realized by reducing the part- time maintenance person who now is 0.25 time Lincoln and 0.25 time Hanscom to only 0.25 time and to only serving Hanscom. Mr. Jack said this might not be a real saving because it would now be necessary to contract for needed repairs. Mr. Jack also described a $20,000 savings that could result from cuts in various buildings and grounds supplies and services. He noted that in the reduction memorandum “carpeting” should be “carpentry.” Mr. Brandmeyer talked about the impact of removing $5,000 for community events. The committee explored what that reduction might mean to various organizations in the town. Mr. Brandmeyer said the proposal regarding community events would not change the current policy of what community non-profits pay.
Mr. Picker asked the Committee whether they had additional ideas for savings. He noted that if the committee wants to fund something that is on this list of proposed reductions, then something else must be cut in order to meet the budget target. Mr. Picker suggested consideration of cutting the $5,000 crossing guard or cutting an additional $12,500 in athletics.
Ms. Hessler, noting the special education structure with a coordinator at the central office level and one at each school, asked whether it would be possible to eliminate a layer. Mr. Brandmeyer said that this would be considered but noted that it would impact support for students and compliance issues.
Ms. Sweetser had a number of suggestions that add up to a cut of $670,000. She provided these suggestions to the School Committee in a memorandum. She said that district services should be cut and direct services to students should be preserved. She suggested negotiating the new water rates and reducing the budget for legal fees. Mr. Picker thanked her for her ideas and said the committee will consider them.
Mr. Brandmeyer explained additional revenue obtained from grants, to provide a more complete picture of funding and expenditures: (1) the Federal Special Education Entitlement grant of $283,043, (2) the METCO grant of $384,225, and (3) the Early Childhood Special Education grant of $16,004. There is also a Kindergarten grant that is shared between Lincoln and Hanscom.
Ms. Dobrow said that the level of cuts contemplated tonight will significantly affect the quality of education and the workload of the staff. She said that the School Committee needs to tell the community that it cannot deliver the quality of programming that the community expects at the level of funding permitted by the guideline.
Mr. Peery encouraged Mr. Brandmeyer to consider some ideas on Ms. Sweetser’s list such as recruiting staff on the web rather than through newspaper ads. Mr. Picker thanked the leadership team for their ongoing work on the budget.
A draft of a document dealing with the roles and responsibilities of various entities in the school system was presented and discussed. Members offered some high level feedback on the draft document. In addition, it was agreed that members sent any detailed comments in writing to the subcommittee. The subcommittee was asked to consider the feedback and when ready to come back with a revised draft for consideration at a future School Committee meeting. Mr. Peery said he appreciated how much time has gone into the work the subcommittee has done commented on the documents.
Respectfully submitted by Sara Rolley, School Committee Secretary