Mr. Clemens reported on the Lincoln Library’s children’s programs. He said that the library has a great group of children’s librarians. The library presents programs for one year olds, two year olds, and preschoolers. It has special events for kids and takes part in off-site events. The Lincoln Library has been collaborating with the school library in helping to advise on book-buying. It offers its discards to the school library. It also provides all Lincoln teachers and teachers who live in Lincoln with special library cards which do not have fines.
Mr. Clemens said that the Lincoln Library’s programs are strong for grade school students but that there is concern that as soon as students reach the young adult reading level they are not so involved with the library. Mr. Clemens said that the library will be looking at how to improve this as part of its five year plan. Members of the Committee suggested that the library staff collaborate with the middle school faculty and administration in thinking about ways to address this issue. Mr. Clemens said he had a personal concern that the school library has suffered from lack of funding and he is glad that this is being addressed with a plan to improve the school library’s collection. Ms. Dobrow thanked Mr. Clemens for his service and for his report.
Ms. Bottan said that tonight’s discussion would focus on the Lincoln School budget. She explained that the Preliminary Budget resulted in a gap of $627,155 for level service and a gap of $720,733 for level service plus new initiatives. Lincoln campus reductions discussed at the November 16 School Committee meeting would reduce the gap by $113,673 or 15% resulting in a remaining gap of $513,482. She said that an expense for special education services and transportation which was just discovered results in the gap increasing to $527,482. Ms. Bottan reviewed the Administrative Council’s response set forth at the School Committee’s November 16 meeting. She also reviewed the School Committee’s response noting their directions: to consider postponing investment in certain areas (non-core academic); rethink the number of sections and class sizes (considering the most educationally responsible way to reduce sections and examining which would have the least impact on program quality and student performance – larger class sizes with aides or smaller class sizes without aides); provide analysis and impact if one bus were to be eliminated; revisit methodology used to project electricity and heating costs; continue to seek efficiencies; and ensure all areas are being looked at in comparable ways – consider reductions across the board.
Ms. Bottan presented for discussion reductions in curriculum and instruction which would reduce the gap by $116,000: reduce tuition and professional development ($8,000), extend library investment over five years ($12,000), reduce grade 2 by one section ($42,000), reduce kindergarten by one section ($40,000), reduce athletic programs ($3,500), and eliminate the fall drama production ($10,500).
Ms. Hessler asked how the savings from reducing grade 2 by one section were calculated. Ms. Bottan said that this is a reduction of 1 FTE teacher and 20 hours per week of an aide. Ms. Bottan said that she identified the lowest salary for a grade 2 teacher, this is a conservative estimate, and that actual savings could be slightly more. Ms. Bottan said that if this cut is implemented the District will attempt to achieve it by attrition which would not result in unemployment costs. Ms. Hessler observed that the District would still be within target and maximum class sizes with this section reduction.
Mr. Brandmeyer said that idea of reducing Kindergarten by one section is based on census data. He said that 52 children in Lincoln are eligible and that the District planned to ask six Boston students which would result in three sections with 18 to 18.5 students per section which is at or slightly above target. Ms. Dobrow asked if, based on the history of the past few years, Mr. Brandmeyer was comfortable with the projections of kindergarten enrollment, and he replied that in the past several years the school has ended up with a few less students than had been initially projected. Mr. Brandmeyer said that in past year the Finance Committee has agreed that the school could come back to them for additional funding if there are more kindergarten students than projected. Mr. Brandmeyer said that he would want this assurance before he goes forward with this reduction. Mr. Picker suggested that this request for assurance be put to the Finance Committee at their December 7th meeting.
Ms. Hessler commented that there are other grades that fall between target and maximum in the class size policy, based on present enrollment projections, and asked how the administrative team thought about which sections might be reduced. Ms. Hadley said that they looked at reductions in terms of whether they would be educationally responsible. She said that first grade will be between target and maximum but that this is a crucial age and that kindergarten has full time aides but first grade does not, making it more educationally sound to think about reducing a section in kindergarten. Ms. Hessler asked whether, if there were full time aides in grade one, it would be educationally sound to reduce grade 1 by one section and whether there would be cost savings if this were done.
Regarding the rationale for number of sections for grades 5, Ms. Glassman said that eliminating a section in grade 5 would put the class sizes closer to the maximum and at this age students are making a transition into difficult subject areas. Ms. Glassman said that in grade 7 the four teacher team model allows each teacher to be highly qualified and competent to teach in their subject area. Mr. Brandmeyer said that, if this grade were reduced by one section and reduced by one teacher, the three remaining teachers would need to teach a subject area outside their expertise. An alternative of allowing teachers to stay within their subject area but having them teach two grades was suggested. Ms. Dobrow noted that this would compromise the current team model in the middle school and be a shift of culture. Mr. Picker asked the administration to consider the possibility of thinking about a departmental structure which would allow teachers to teach within their areas of expertise, but across more than one grade. Ms. Glassman said that classes in the middle school are from 21 to 23 students. She said that if classes are too big students are afraid to engage. The Committee discussed whether the class size policy correctly addresses students’ needs at various grades.
Regarding reducing athletic programs, Mr. Brandmeyer said that the District has worked hard to reduce athletic fees over the last two years. The possible reduction would be the elimination of the tennis team which has lower enrollment than some other sports and would not result in Title 9 issues. He said that not many middle schools have tennis programs.
Total amounts in the preliminary budget for professional development and tuition were $95,000 so a reduction $8,000 would be 8.4%. Ms. Manos asked whether there are any comparisons with professional development offerings of peer districts. Mr. Naso said that budget categories are not always the same in other districts so this is a difficult comparison to make. Mr. Naso said that the District has been building better recordkeeping of these expenses and that based on this year’s closer tracking of expenditures this reduction could be made. Mr. Brandmeyer cautioned that tuition reimbursement is an obligation under the teachers’ contract so that if there are requests money will still need to be paid. He anticipated that this reduction could be partly from tuition reimbursement and partly from professional development.
Regarding the fall drama production, Ms. Glassman said that plays and athletics are important for middle school students. She said that if there is a choice between eliminating a section or eliminating the fall production, she would eliminate the fall production. The $10,500 cost of the fall production goes for salary,, costumes, scenery, and scripts. The $10 admission charge does not cover the cost of the production.
Ms. Bottan presented for discussion reductions in operations which would reduce the gap by $221,000: revolving fund to cover part of Food Service Director’s salary ($5,000) for Lincoln, eliminate one school bus by staggering opening times to allow for double bus runs or eliminate one school bus by limiting sales of seats ($47,000), close Pod B--($5,000) heat and ($7,000) electricity, charge the Recreation Department a fee to cover utilities for Pod A--($7,000) heat and ($7,000) electricity, and reduce utilities projections to 20% over FY’06 ($143,000).
Regarding revising the methodology for projecting utilities costs, Ms. Bottan said that for FY’06 25% was added to the FY’05 actual costs. She arrived at the projected FY’07 costs by adding an additional 50%. She said that energy costs have declined since their peak a few weeks ago and that she has consulted with an energy consultant who said that they expect FY’07 rates to be approximately equivalent to FY’06 expenditures. For these reasons, she feels comfortable changing the projection to 20% over FY’06.
Regarding charging the Recreation Department for utilities for Pod A, Ms. Bottan said that she discussed this with Dan Pereira, Director of Recreation, who said that the Recreation Department’s budget for next year has already been submitted. Mr. Picker advised that, if necessary, the Recreation Department could revise its budget and suggested that the District should not take money away from educational goals to subsidize fee based recreation programs. Ms. Bottan noted that, if the Recreation Department is charged for utilities for Pod A, it would have to charge higher fees for its programs. Ms. Bottan said that renters other than the Recreation Department pay fees which would cover their energy costs. Mr. Brandmeyer said that the fees paid by the EDCO collaborative covered the Pod A utility charges but that EDCO will be leaving next year. He said that the Recreation Department uses other spaces but that the administration is only considering passing on utility costs for Pod A noting that some Lincoln School students gain access to Recreation Department programs free of charge.
The Committee discussed the option of staggering school start times. Ms. Brandmeyer said that the advantage of this option is that it would allow the District to sell bus seats to all students who need them. Committee members suggested that staggered start times would be a logistical challenge for working parents and would interfere with having the same working block for all teachers on Wednesday afternoons. Ms. Glassman said at one time there were two bus runs but school started at the same time with students waiting in the gym until classes started and that this approach did not meet students’ needs. Mr. Brandmeyer made it clear that the proposal was to have staggered start times for different grades. Mr. Brandmeyer said that, hearing the Committee’s comments, he understands that they do not look upon staggered start times with favor.
If one bus were eliminated without staggered start times, 46 students would need to be absorbed onto other buses and there would be roughly 22 students wanting to buy bus passes who could not be accommodated. Ms. Bottan also said that this option adds a considerable amount of time to one bus run. The Committee discussed the reality that, although the buses are not always full, the District has to plan to service everyone who is eligible. Ms. Bottan said that over the last three weeks Doherty’s has taken bus counts which she will use to determine the percent of rider-ship. The Committee considered an option of creating two different classes of bus seats sold with different privileges based on projected use of bus services, but noted parents’ reluctance to make bus commitment, difficulty of monitoring, and the school’s responsibility to provide safe transportation without overloading buses as negative factors. They also considered the option of having extra capacity for peak load days. They also discussed asking parents whose children are entitled to busing but who do not use it to waive this right, whether it is appropriate to ask parents to sign away their rights, and whether the District could provide some type of consideration for parents who signed away their bus rights.
Ms. Dobrow said that the District should close Pod B saving $12,000 in heat and electricity, given that the three groups now using it could easily be accommodated in other spaces. The Committee discussed seeking other energy efficiencies. Mr. Picker observed that the lights often stay on all night in Hartwell and making sure that these are turned off could save some money. Ms. Bottan said that she is working on lowering thermostats and making sure that lights are turned out. Ms. Dobrow suggested that the school administration could work in collaboration with the PTA and other groups to undertake an energy conservation awareness campaign.
Ms. Manos asked about an item in the preliminary budget proposal on page 19 of $17, 312 titled enrichment. Ms. Bottan said that this is for items which will be allocated in the spring when the staff knows more about programmatic needs for the following year. It would be for items like an artist in residence and equipment. Mr. Brandmeyer said that this allocation would be for the same purpose as last year’s but that it will not fund exactly the same activities. Mr. Brandmeyer said that he will bring back a list of the types of enrichment items in the FY’06 budget.
Mr. Brandmeyer said that he will talk about applying a deflation factor at the next School Committee meeting. Other cost savings suggested were moving to paperless parent communications and eliminating or reducing the use of colored paper. Committee members suggested reducing the distribution of certain supplies, such as student planners. Mr. Brandmeyer said that if the school requires students to have certain items, the school is required to provide them.
Ms. Hessler said that the Capital Planning Committee suggested that some School Committee requests were maintenance rather than capital planning. Mr. Picker said that the School Committee should ask that they identify which ones are not capital and then respond. Mr. Brandmeyer said that if these items are seen as maintenance, he wonders how this work can ever be done with budget increases of 2%.
Ms. Hessler said that Capital Planning Committee asked whether there is anything in the $240,000 requested by the School Committee that can be postponed. Ms. Bottan presented a report with suggestions of projects that might be postponed. She said that repairing or replacing 2 doors and all windows in Hartwell could be postponed. She also said that all recommended work on grounds and mechanical systems could be postponed. She said adding ramps and walkways was recommended to make the Smith building more ADA complaint but noted that there is access to the building in two other ADA compliant entrances and exits. With Ms. Bottan’s recommendations, the School Committee’s capital planning requests were pared down to $213,000 with the $113,000 in building envelope and mechanical systems work necessary for safety.
Ms. Hessler also said that some members of the Capital Planning Committee questioned the $50,000 for classroom rehabilitation. Mr. Brandmeyer said that classroom rehabilitation was discussed last year, that they discussed cycling through the entire building in five or six years, and that the Capital Planning Committee confirmed last year that this is how they wanted to proceed. Ms. Hessler said there was discussion of the need for the Finance Committee to create some rules for guidance. She said that questions are coming up because the requests the Capital Planning Committee is receiving from town departments are larger than in the past.
Ms. Hessler said that the Capital Planning Committee is also asking for more information on the $50,000 technology work that is the subject of a School Committee capital request. Mr. Brandmeyer will provide Ms. Hessler with the justification for this request. Ms. Hessler said that she will offer Capital Planning Committee members a walk through to see the needs for the building envelope and mechanical systems work.
Mr. Picker suggested that the time for communicating more about the budget content as opposed to budget process is when the budget decisions have been made. Any effort to provide a substantive update will be too subject to change up to then and those who are interested can attend School Committee meetings, read minutes, and read the coverage in the Lincoln Journal. Ms. Manos suggested that the reminder that there is only the December 8 meeting before the base budget is voted (on December 15) be put out in the School Committee News, the Mini-Link and that Ms. Dobrow remind parents of this at the PTA meeting.
It was noted that the recommended budget will be voted on January 12. The Committee discussed whether it might be necessary to add an extra meeting for discussion of the recommended budget before the vote.