Published in the May 29, 2020 edition


WAKEFIELD — The School Department will cut $400,000 from its FY 2021 budget proposal as part of the overall plan to trim $2.6 million from the town’s budget due to projected revenue shortfalls as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown.

The town anticipates a significant drop in local receipts (excise tax, hotel tax and local option meals tax). In addition to that, the town is preparing for cuts in state aid.

School Superintendent Douglas Lyons detailed his plan to go forward with a reduced School Department budget of $43,576,659 at Tuesday’s School Committee meeting.

Lyons highlighted some of the new challenges related to safety and re-opening during the on-going pandemic. The reduced budget will support what the Wakefield Public Schools (WPS) need in order to create a safe teaching and learning environment for all students and staff, Lyons said. The budget will need to fund a faculty and staff of 567 in seven bargaining units to educate 3,510 students in grades pre-K through 12 and POST Academy.

He assured the School Committee that the revised budget will be driven by the WPS Instructional Strategy and the WPS Core Values. It will be fiscally responsive and sustainable, while acknowledging the changing demands of COVID-19, Lyons said.

Lyons observed that the individualized student learning prong of the WPS Instructional Strategy will be especially important when school resumes in the fall, as student needs will have to be evaluated after the COVID-19 disruption of classroom teaching.

Lyons also talked about the impact of the revised budget on special education.

“We will continue to develop and support in-district programming to support all learners,” Lyons said.

In addition, extended year services will need to be looked at to accommodate the needs of all students. Trauma sensitive practices, additional services, assessments and programming will be needed to support SPED students throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Professional development offerings for staff will focus on remote services and teaching to meet the emerging needs of students.

Lyons also talked about “knowns” and “unknowns” in light of the changes that the COVID-19 situation has forced.

Safety, equity and access will be critical, he said, and health services, direct instruction, intervention, remote services and counseling will now be top priorities. Personal protective equipment and and modified work spaces and routines will be required.

Among the “unknowns” are the extent to which medical support or additional nurses will be needed to track symptomatic students and staff as well as the need for substitutes for remote teaching and services.

The need for modified schedules that impact class size and schedules, lunch, transportation, extra curricular activities and sports as a result of the pandemic will also need to be addressed

“To open safely,” Lyons said, “the knowns and unknowns need to be accounted for and resources will need to be adjusted and reallocated as needed.”

He said that the schools will continue to collaborate with town leaders to plan long term (7-10 years) and create safe learning-ready facilities during this pandemic. The School Department will continue to plan and support a new high school, a new roof on the Greenwood School and an aggressive preventative maintenance schedule jointly managed with DPW.

Lyons said that while going forward with the reduced budget of $43,576,659, the school administration will continue to monitor the state budget for any changes in Chapter 70 aid to public schools.