By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — The Select Board expressed its support for the School Department’s proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2023 during a March 21 meeting.

Superintendent Kristen Vogel has proposed a $28,515,911 spending plan for FY23, which represents a 3.5 percent increase over FY22’s $27,551,605 operating budget. The School Department has also requested a $250,000 capital budget for technology and curriculum materials.

“This budget preserves elective courses, specials, extra curricular activities, athletics and Advanced Placement courses,” said Vogel. “Through the reallocation of resources, this budget preserves the courses, programs and services needed to get every child to their starting line.”

Vogel acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has created “academic and social-emotional challenges for students.”

“The proposed FY23 budget incorporates the projected needs of the district,” said Vogel. “It is clear that the community prioritizes providing an exceptional education for its children.”

Vogel said 91 percent of Lynnfield High School graduates go on to attend a four-year college or university, and 9 percent attend a two-year college. She also said 70 percent of the 189 students who took an Advanced Placement exam scored a 3 or higher last year.

Select Board Chairman Dick Dalton was impressed by the high school’s AP participation rate.

“It’s a very large participation rate,” said Dalton.

Vogel agreed.

“For the size of Lynnfield High School, offering 14 AP courses is exceptional,” said Vogel. “That is a very high number to offer to our students. We have a large percentage of juniors and seniors who are taking more than one AP course, and being able to score between a 3 and a 5 on an AP exam is excellent. It has gotten trickier with colleges and universities in regards to AP courses because they are in the money game. Once upon a time, if a student earned a 5 on an AP exam, they would be able to use that to exempt out of an introductory course at the college level. It’s now rare for a college to do that.”

Student Services Director Roberta Keane said the School Department has budgeted $1,698,084 for special education out-of-district tuition in FY23, which represents a 60 percent increase over the $1,059,808 allocated in FY22. She also said the School Department has budgeted $400,000 for special education out-of-district transportation.

“After the past two years, the district has worked to make sure we are providing more intensive help to our students identified with special education needs,” said Keane. “Our most vulnerable population was the hardest hit from the disruptive learning caused by the pandemic. We also had to make sure our general education students are getting the appropriate interventions and supports to fill academic gaps.”

Keane said the number of special education students who have been placed outside of the district has been “fairly stable over the last five years.”

“This year and into next year, the students have more complex and way more intensive needs, which is resulting in placements that are more expensive,” said Keane. “While the overall number of students placed outside of the district has increased a little bit, the cost has gone up substantially because of the complexity of their needs.”

Keane said the School Department will be expanding its language-based programs to support special education students.

“We are constantly evaluating our in-house programming, augmenting it and expanding it so we can continue to meet as many students’ needs as we can in the district,” said Keane. “The Lynnfield Public Schools value keeping our students in the community and meeting their needs the best we can. We have partnered with the Landmark School’s Outreach Program to really make sure we are looking at our instructional practices for our students with language-based disabilities. We want to make sure we are providing excellent instruction and progress monitoring for our students, and are supporting them the best we can. We are expanding our overall programming for that population of students.”

School Finance Director Tom Geary said the district received Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from the federal government, totaling $678,618. He said the district received $49,812 in ESSER 1 funds, $200,552 in ESSER 2 funds and $428,254 in ESSER 3 funds.

“These are one-time funds,” said Geary. “We spent the first allotment and I anticipate we will have spent the second allotment by the end of the year. This was spent on COVID nurses, social-emotional areas, the student management system and other curriculum evaluation services. The third allotment is being used for nursing salaries, social-emotional programming, cleaning, air purification, protective equipment, online learning platforms and professional development. These are areas that we thoughtfully and deliberately put our money towards because they are one-time sources of money. We didn’t want to put them towards an ongoing salary or other things that wouldn’t be sustainable.”

Geary said the School Department’s proposed $250,000 capital budget will be used for technology and curriculum materials.

Board commends process

Dalton thanked Vogel, Geary and School Committee Chairman Rich Sjoberg for keeping him and Town Administrator Rob Dolan informed throughout the budget process. Sjoberg and School Committee Vice Chairwoman Stacy Dahlstedt both attended the Select Board’s meeting to show their support for the School Department’s proposed spending plan.

“In the years I have served on the board, it had been a negotiation instead of a collaborative effort,” said Dalton. “This year was very different. I can’t compliment the superintendent enough for creating a budget that meets the School Department’s needs and the overall needs of the town. It is fiscally responsible and sustainable. It was great working with Kristen and the team. I want to thank her for taking the time to meet with Rob and I on a regular basis. It is very much appreciated.”

Vogel concurred with Dalton’s viewpoint.

“We share the goal of sustainability and fiscal responsibility as we developed a budget that works for everybody,” said Vogel.

Select Board member Phil Crawford asked about the state of elementary school enrollment.

Vogel said the School Department will be running five kindergarten classes at Huckleberry Hill School for the 2021-2022 academic year. She said Summer Street School will either be offering four kindergarten classes or five. She noted that Huckleberry Hill School is using art-on-a-cart and Summer Street School is using music-on-a-cart this academic year due to the existing space issues at both schools.

“We currently don’t have those designated spaces in the buildings,” said Vogel.

Vogel also said, “COVID threw a wrench” into the enrollment projections compiled by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) a few years ago. The enrollment projections led to the town approving the $18.75 million elementary schools’ expansion project in December 2020.

“NESDEC projected that a bubble would be coming through,” said Vogel. “That may still happen, but it’s hard to know because the projections were done before COVID. We had no sense of the pandemic’s impact on the housing market and people moving. All of that factors into this.”

Crawford also thanked Vogel for following the Select Board’s budget mandate.

“I want to thank Kristen for working with us right at the beginning so we didn’t have to start negotiating at a much higher level,” said Crawford.

Select Board member Joe Connell commended Vogel and Keane for working to develop more in-district programming for special education students.

“That will benefit kids in the long run because they won’t have to spend two hours a day on the bus,” said Connell.

Connell asked about the pay increase budgeted for substitute teachers.

Geary said the School Department had to increase its pay rate for substitute teachers to “stay competitive in the market place.” He also said the School Department has struggled to find substitute teachers for the last two years due to the pandemic.

Connell also asked school officials to purchase new sports uniforms for student-athletes.

Vogel expressed her support for Connell’s suggestion.

Patrice Lane resident Pat Campbell requested Vogel to provide her with copies of the line item school budget and the new three-year contract with the Lynnfield Teachers Association that the School Committee ratified last week.

Vogel said Campbell can have copies of both documents.

The School Committee will be holding a public hearing about the FY23 budget on Tuesday, April 5, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Al Merritt Media and Cultural Center.

Additionally, the Select Board and Finance Committee will be holding the annual public hearing on the town’s FY23 budget on Wednesday, April 6, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Al Merritt Center.