Published February 20, 2019
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — School officials are heading back to the drawing board in order to reduce the preliminary fiscal year 2020 budget plan.
Superintendent Jane Tremblay presented the School Department’s preliminary $26,182,916 budget for FY’20 to the Board of Selectmen last week. The current spending plan represents a 5.24 percent increase over FY’19’s $24,880,140 appropriation.
“In order to move our district forward while demonstrating fiscal responsibility, we want to make sure we are providing programming opportunities for all of our students,” said Tremblay.
Tremblay is requesting five full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in FY’20, which she said “really represents a net of three” positions because the School Department will be reducing two classes at Summer Street School next year.
One of the positions the School Department is looking to create is a teacher for English language learners (ELL). Tremblay noted the school system only has one teacher working with students who speak English as a second language.
“Our ELL population has grown by leaps and bounds,” said Tremblay. “We have gone from 10 ELL students to 48 in just five years. Our district represents 19 different languages in our very small town, and we have one teacher supporting and servicing all of those students. She is assessing the students, tutoring the students, supporting the teachers and is running a summer boot camp. She is providing parent workshops at night and is filling out endless paperwork for the Department of Education. She is amazing, but it’s getting to the point where she cannot service all of the students in the manner we are used to.”
Tremblay noted communities similar to Lynnfield have a 20:1 student-teacher ratio for ELL students.
“We are certainly behind the times on this and we feel an obligation to put this into the budget so we can serve all of our students,” said Tremblay.
In response to a question from Selectman Chris Barrett, Tremblay said the ELL students are in the elementary, middle and high school levels.
“I think this position is needed,” said Barrett in response.
Tremblay is also looking to hire three FTE adjustment counselors. She is proposing hiring one adjustment counselor for Huckleberry Hill School, Summer Street School and Lynnfield Middle School.
“Our students are coming to us with significantly more challenges,” said Tremblay. “This is particularly happening at our elementary schools and the middle school.”
Tremblay noted the role of adjustment counselors is different than guidance counselors and school psychologists. She noted adjustment counselors specialize in mental health crisis interventions.
“An adjustment counselor is more like a social worker,” said Tremblay.
Tremblay said the adjustment counselors would work with students who have physical, emotional, behavioral and learning disorders. She noted the elementary schools each have one full-time school psychologist and the middle school has two full-time school psychologists. She said Lynnfield High School has three full-time guidance counselors, one adjustment counselor and one school psychologist.
The superintendent is looking to hire a computer science teacher for LHS as well. She said more students are looking to take computer science classes, but said the high school “doesn’t have the faculty to run them.”
“Last year, we had 90 student requests to take an AP (Advanced Placement) Computer Science Principles course,” said Tremblay. “We had another 60 students request to take at least one computer science class. We were only able to run one section of AP Computer Science Principles, which had 20 students in it. If we are able to add this teacher, it would give our students more options to explore.”
Tremblay is also looking to restore two elementary tutors and two middle school tutors that were cut from the FY’19 budget last year.
“Academic tutors serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade,” said Tremblay. “Students are identified through the general education assessment process. This support is designed to give students academic assistance early, often and intensely in their learning process.”
Tremblay has budgeted $1,211,660 for out of district special education for FY’20. She has also budgeted $405,952 for special education transportation.
Similar to previous fiscal years, Tremblay is requesting $250,000 for the School Department’s capital budget.
Tremblay said the capital budget would be used to purchase Chromebooks for freshmen as part of the one-to-one technology initiative and would upgrade high school teachers’ laptops and docking stations. She said the capital budget would also replace Smart Boards as needed and would upgrade the district’s cabling infrastructure. She said the capital budget would allocate $40,000 in order to upgrade the high school’s phone system.
Budget reductions sought
While Selectmen Chairman Dick Dalton thanked Tremblay for “giving a great presentation as usual,” he noted the lack of new growth has made FY’20 a very tight budget year.
“It’s not our responsibility to micromanage the line items in the school budget,” said Dalton. “It’s up to you, the leadership team and the School Committee. But in my mind, I see our charge as bringing a balanced budget to Town Meeting. This budget, as presented, doesn’t accomplish that. The idea of the adjustment counselors and the other positions are justified. I would urge you, the leadership team and the School Committee to go back and sharpen your pencils. We have no new growth this year compared to prior years and we have certain restrictions. That has created a real issue for this budget.”
Selectman Phil Crawford commended Tremblay for trying to help address students’ social-emotional needs, but he echoed Dalton’s comments about the town’s budget challenges.
“I know social-emotional learning is a big part of the daily requirements for your staff, but there is also the sustainability of a budget,” said Crawford. “You have come in with great reasons why you want to do these things and we agree with them. But you can’t create a structural deficit in the budget, and this would do that next year. We are going to spend about $1 million in capital, which is much less than we have been spending the last few years. If we put in a budget of this type, we would have no money for capital for any department. It isn’t fiscally responsible to accommodate that because we would be looking for an override for anything else we want to do in the future. If you could whittle this down to a 4 percent budget, that would be in line with what we need to do for this year.”
In response to a question from Crawford, Tremblay said there are no cuts in the preliminary FY’20 school budget.
Barrett expressed his support for the ELL teacher and adjustment counselor requests. He encouraged Tremblay to work closely with Town Administrator Rob Dolan to try and find a way to incorporate the positions into the final FY’20 school budget.
“I know it’s a tough year, but I see a lot of musts and needs in this budget,” said Barrett.
In an interview with the Villager, Tremblay said school officials will be working to “revise the budget to meet a 4 percent increase.”