Published in the March 23, 2020 edition.


WAKEFIELD — The town and the Wakefield Education Association (the local teachers union) have come to a tentative contract settlement. The news came to light in response to a question during Wednesday’s public hearing on the FY 2021 School Department budget.

Stefan Chase of Emerson Street asked if the proposed budget took into account costs related to a future settlement of the teachers’ contract.

School Committee member Thomas Markham, who chairs the Labor Relations subcommittee, said that a tentative contract agreement had been reached with Unit A teachers. He stressed that the agreement still needs to be voted on by the full membership of the teachers’ union and the full School Committee. He said that the proposed FY 2021 budget would support the tentative agreement.

The budget hearing made for quite a visual for those watching on WCAT, as coronavirus fears were front and center.

School Committee members sat spaced six feet apart as they took questions that residents submitted via email or typed in as comments while watching the live video on Facebook.

Present in the WCAT studio were members Ann Fortier, Suzy Veilleux, Thomas Markham, Colleen Guida and Chairman Christopher Callanan. Dialing in via speaker phone was member Aimee Purcell. School Superintendent Douglas Lyons was also on hand. Assistant Superintendent Kara Mauro was present and read the questions submitted via email and Facebook.

At last week’s School Committee meeting, Lyons unveiled his recommended $47,976,659 FY 2021 School Department budget. The proposal includes a $2,045,611 (4.88 percent) increase over the current year’s budget.

The first question submitted asked if the half-time adjustment counselor at the Walton School would be retained in next year’s budget.

Lyons replied that the position will remain. Callanan added that no positions were cut in the FY 2021 budget.

Andrew Bray of Highland Avenue asked if a language-based program initiated in the elementary schools last year would follow those students as they enter higher grades.

Lyons said that there would be staffing to support those students moving from grades 4 and 5 and grades 5 and 6. He also noted that in the FY 2021 budget a .5 position had been added at the Greenwood School and a full-time special education position had been added at the Galvin.

Bray also asked how the schools would continue to improve their “environmental footprint.”

Lyons said that the schools were trying to manage costs as they make changes to address environmental issues. He mentioned a proposal to eliminate the use of styrofoam trays in the cafeteria and start using paper trays. Lyons noted that trays with food stains are hard to recycle. Veilleux talked about efforts to switch to different trays without raising the cost of meals for students.

Lyons added that the schools were also looking at how trash and recycling pickup are being handled as well as taking steps to minimize food waste.

Chase also asked if the School Committee and Administration would support a Proposition 2 1/2 override to increase funding for the schools.

Lyons said that his team has worked hard to build a budget that fits within the growth of the town. He said that he did not feel that the schools were even close to needing a Proposition 2 1/2 override for operations at this time.

Markham added that he did not think that an override for operations would succeed in Wakefield. However, he felt that school officials should still advocate for advancements within budgetary limits.

Callanan said that any thinking about an override was more focused on addressing needs at the high school in the form of a future renovation or new construction.

Melvin Street resident Dennis Clancy asked if the Wakefield Public Schools have a sex education curriculum and if so, which curriculum was being used.

Mauro said that sex education was included in the health curriculum in grades 6, 7 and 8. She thought that the curriculum might be tied to the Michigan curriculum but said that she would need to follow up on that.

Gerard Leeman of Fox Road submitted a question asking if the program of reducing athletic and activity fees was continuing.

Callanan said that the gradual reduction of fees was suspended in the last two budgets. Markham said that the fees remain at the FY 2020 levels.

The School Committee is expected to vote on the FY 2021 budget at their meeting tomorrow, March 24. That meeting will have to follow the new guidelines on public meetings issued by the town this week in the wake of COVID-19 fears. Members of the public will not be allowed to attend meetings until further notice.

Local committees, boards and commissions are being encouraged to postpone any non-essential meetings. For any meetings that go forward, members are similarly encouraged to participate telephonically, via a dedicated conference line. The standard requirements for posting meeting notices and agendas will continue to be followed.

Any residents seeking to participate in the “Public Engagement” portion of the meetings are encouraged to submit comments comment or issues at Submissions must be received at least two hours prior to the start of a meeting. Written comments can also be submitted outside Town Hall, 1 Lafayette St., at the secure drop-box location (although online submission strongly requested).