Published February 15, 2017 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Last week, Superintendent of Schools Jane Tremblay presented the school department’s preliminary fiscal year 2018 budget to the School Committee.
Tremblay has proposed a budget totaling $23,780,038 for FY’18, which she said represents a 4.0 percent increase from FY’17’s $22,865,421 budget. She said the school budget is designed to meet student needs and move the district forward in a fiscally responsible manner.
“The education that our students receive in Lynnfield from preschool through grade 12 is among the top public educations our state has to offer,” said Tremblay. “I believe we prepare students for life beyond the boundaries of Lynnfield and we prepare them well. (The budget) keeps us focused on doing our job for our students while remaining fiscally responsible to our community.”
Tremblay proposed increasing two existing part-time positions to full-time positions in the FY’18 budget.
The superintendent proposed increasing a part-time elementary school psychologist position to a full-time job. She said the cost of making the job full-time is $18,000.
“This position will be able to support the workload the psychologists have, especially when it comes to student evaluations at the elementary level,” said Tremblay. “This will allow more direct social emotional support to our youngest learners in the form of small groups and individual support. The needs of our elementary students are increasing dramatically every year.”
Tremblay said making the elementary school psychologist position full-time will help school officials and teachers address students’ social emotional issues “early, often and intensely.”
“During the 2016-2017 school year, the elementary psychologists’ caseload crawled up to 78 students,” said Tremblay. “It means that elementary psychologists are either checking in or meeting daily or weekly with 78 students in addition to troubleshooting the daily situations that arise and demand immediate attention.”
In response to a question from School Committee Chairman Tim Doyle, Tremblay said making the elementary psychologist position full-time “will allow both elementary schools to have a full-time psychologist.”
Tremblay also proposed making a part-time World Language teacher at Lynnfield Middle School full-time. The cost of making the World Language teacher full-time is $21,120.
In addition to teaching French, Tremblay said the teacher would also teach a Cultural Studies course. She said the Cultural Studies course will be available for students not taking either French or Spanish, but will most likely study either Italian or Latin in high school.
“We feel the Cultural Studies course will set the foundation for studying a foreign language at the high school,” said Tremblay.
Tremblay noted middle school students not enrolled in a foreign language class are currently spending that time in a study hall. She also noted it has been very difficult to hire a part-time French teacher the past two years, and the middle school is currently using a substitute.
“The reason why this has been incredibly difficult is even though this is a part-time teaching position, this person’s schedule is not set in stone because of the way the middle school’s schedule works,” said Tremblay. “It has not been attractive to anybody.”
Tremblay proposed re-allocating resources in the FY’18 school budget.
“Due to some additional training of our special education teachers and increased support we have put into specialized programming, we are able to eliminate one paraprofessional and one special education support person from our budget next year,” said Tremblay. “We will continue being able to offer our students a very high quality service they have been accustomed to.”
Additionally, Tremblay proposed reducing one elementary teacher at Summer Street School. She noted both elementary schools each have 420 students enrolled.
“I am proposing that we run both buildings next year with 21 teachers,” said Tremblay. “We will remain within the appropriate class size guidelines. Instead of being in the high teens, we are going to be in the low 20s. We are able to do this without compromising the needs of any of our students and we will be able to retain our highly qualified teaching faculty.”
Tremblay said two areas will have increased costs for the school department in FY’18.
According to Tremblay, the school department’s special education costs have increased the past couple of years. The school department has budgeted $855,266 for special education tuition and $271,131 for special education transportation in FY’18.
Tremblay attributed the rise in special education costs to several factors, including residential placements.
“Residential placements are far more expensive than just a regular out of district placement,” said Tremblay. “A residential placement can cost anywhere from $200,000 to $250,000.”
In response to a question from School Committee Vice Chairwoman Dorothy Presser, Special Services Director Kara Mauro said the school department pays for the bulk of the cost of residential placements but said the state does reimburse part of the cost through the Circuit Breaker program.
Tremblay noted the school department has had to absorb costs for students who recently moved to town but are currently placed outside of the district. She also said the school department is offering extended year programs for special education students during the summer, which is designed to prevent students on individual education programs (IEPs) from regressing.
“As our special education population increases at all levels, our programming increases as well,” said Tremblay. “Last summer, we serviced almost 200 students, all of whom received specialized instruction. When our students require specialized instruction, we need to hire highly qualified people for our summer programming.”
In addition to rising special education costs, Tremblay said costs for athletic transportation have increased as well. She said the school department absorbs the cost of athletic transportation even though the Department of Public Works is in charge of busing.
Tremblay said the new busing contract with North Suburban Transportation increased from $67,831 in FY’16 to $95,000 in FY’17.
“It led to a $30,000 increase to our budget,” said Tremblay. “We believe we can get back down to a reasonable number. We have worked with Town Administrator Jim Boudreau and DPW Director John Tomasz to come up with a plan, where the DPW is going to hire a part-time Lynnfield driver for our athletic runs. The reason why this will hopefully reduce (athletic transportation costs) is the differential between using the Lynnfield driver and the outside driver is pretty significant.”
Tremblay said the school department has budgeted $70,000 for athletic transportation in FY’18.
Doyle asked if the school department had any input on the bus contract.
“We don’t have any control over this,” said Tremblay. “We have been working with the same bus provider for a number of years and when the bid came in, North Suburban came in at the lowest.”
Tremblay also noted the school department often has to use North Suburban drivers for athletic runs because the timing of most sporting events conflicts with afternoon bus routes.
“If we have runs on weekends or a late Friday night, then our Lynnfield drivers can accommodate us,” said Tremblay. “But more often than not, we are using contracted bus drivers.”
Tremblay said the school department’s capital budget for FY’18 will continue being $250,000, which is similar to previous fiscal years. She said the capital budget will be used for technology initiatives.
The superintendent said the capital budget will allow the school department to purchase Chromebooks for incoming freshmen next year. She said older Chromebooks used by current high school seniors will in turn be repurposed at the middle school.
“It’s a great use of those devices,” said Tremblay. “Recycling the Chromebooks will allow our seventh and eighth grade students greater accessibly during their core academic classes.”
Tremblay said the school department will be using capital funds to maintain and upgrade the school system’s infrastructure and network as well.
Presser asked Tremblay if she would ideally like more resources in the school budget next year.
Tremblay said she would like more resources, but said “it’s always a fine line you walk when you are building your budget.” She noted the school budget is the town’s largest budget.
“I firmly believe you have to give to get,” said Tremblay. “Would we want to come in at a 5.4 percent increase, not eliminate anything and have more things in our operating budget? Absolutely. But is that fiscally responsible? Absolutely not. The whole process of building the budget is being reflective about all of the resources that we have and really walking that line of what we can live with that is not going to compromise our programs. Our students here are really fortunate to have everything afforded to them inside the classroom and outside the classroom, and I believe this budget doesn’t compromise that in any way. But it does make us tighten our belts because we understand there is not a pot of gold that is endless.”