By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — On Feb. 11, Superintendent of Schools Jane Tremblay unveiled the school department’s preliminary fiscal year 2016 school budget, totaling $21,880,786.
The proposed school budget represents a 4.5 percent increase from FY’15’s $20,989,552 budget figure. Tremblay said the proposed budget is designed to meet student needs in a fiscally responsible manner.
Tremblay and the School Committee established four goals for the FY’16 budget. School officials want to continue integrating technology effectively to enhance teaching and learning. Tremblay also requests that teachers and staff members have the “instructional practices, training and resources necessary to ensure continuous improvement in student achievement.”
Additionally, school officials want to continue teaching and assessing critical thinking and communication skills, while also emphasizing collaboration and creativity to “prepare all students for college and career readiness.” Tremblay wants to enhance the school department’s partnership with the community to enrich the educational experience for Lynnfield students and “unite all citizens around the belief that high quality public education is our community’s most valuable asset” as well.
Tremblay noted the school system’s per pupil expenditure is $12,615, according to FY’13 data provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. According to the data, Lynnfield’s per pupil expenditure is not only lower than the state average of $14,000 but is also lower than area communities Andover, Hamilton-Wenham, Manchester-Essex, Masconomet, North Reading and Swampscott.
“Our per pupil expenditure is among the lowest on the North Shore,” said Tremblay. “We have an outstanding school system and we have done amazing things for the children we are privileged to serve by looking at our resources and using our resources to the best of our ability.”
School Committee member Dorothy Presser agreed with Tremblay’s assessment.
“In order for us to get to the state average, we would have to add $3 million to our budget,” said Presser. “When you look at the level our students are achieving in this district, I think the return on the investment our taxpayers are getting is pretty impressive.”
School Committee Chairman Chris Barrett concurred with Tremblay and Presser.
“Over the past three years, we have been able to maximize our resources to allow us to maintain a per pupil expenditure that is below the state average and well below other districts with similar demographics,” said Barrett.
Tremblay and the School Committee established a series of budget priorities for FY’16. School officials want to ensure student achievement continues to improve at the middle school, particularly on the MCAS exam. Tremblay said the middle school’s new schedule and team structure for grades 7 and 8 have helped students improve academically.
Additionally, Tremblay wants to expand the use of technology at each grade level. She wants high school students to create digital portfolios, which students will be able take with them after they leave LHS.
“It would not only be a way to track student progress but students will also be able to use it while they are applying for college and doing job interviews,” said Tremblay.
While the middle school has been utilizing Google Suite and Chromebooks in grades 5-8, Tremblay wants middle school students to begin using a “variety of multi-media options for students to demonstrate” the skills they are learning in class.
Tremblay wants to expand the use of technology in the two elementary schools. She also wants the elementary schools to develop “vertical teams” to deliver specific lessons for each grade level and content area.
School officials want to continue offering high quality special education programs to keep students in the district as well as bring back students currently placed outside of the school system. Tremblay said special education tuition has fallen to under $600,000 since FY’12, which she attributed to new programs created by Special Services Director Kara Mauro.
Lastly, Tremblay wants to continue to “recruit and retain” high quality teachers.
School officials have requested five positions for the FY’16 budget, totaling $116,202.
In order to expand the use of technology in the school system, Tremblay wants to add another full-time technology integration specialist, equaling $65,000. Tremblay said the new technology integration specialist would work “hand-in-hand” with current technology integration specialist Jennifer Judkins.
Tremblay noted that Judkins works in all four schools and is serving over 2,000 students and 200 faculty members. Tremblay said Judkins is stretched “incredibly thin” and needs assistance in order for the school department to expand the use of technology at the middle and elementary schools.
“In order to grow in the area of technology, this is absolutely a necessity,” said Tremblay.
Tremblay also wants to add two more tutors to LMS, totaling $36,000. She said, “Tutors have been instrumental at the middle school” because they have focused on specific areas to help students improve academically.
The superintendent also wants to add a media center aide for the middle school, totaling $10,000. She said LMS is the only school that does not have a media center aide, which was cut from the school budget a few years ago. She said adding a media center aide is important because it will enable media specialist Sue Owens to focus on teaching as opposed to cataloging books.
“The role of media center teachers in this district has really changed due to the use of technology,” said Tremblay.
Lastly, Tremblay said the high school wants to hire an assistant football coach, equaling $5,202. She said the new coach would coach the JV team as well as work as an assistant coach for the varsity team.
“The participation rates for the football team has increased significantly the past two years,” said Tremblay. “We have a record number of kids playing football right now.”
School Committee member Jamie Hayman inquired why the high school’s only staffing request was the assistant football coach considering the school board has discussed a variety of different “challenges” at LHS such as SAT performance and Advanced Placement (AP) participation.
“How does the high school take the next step?” Hayman inquired.
Tremblay said she believes the high school has “the right resources” needed in order to be successful, but stressed “we need to make sure we are maximizing our resources to the best of our ability.” She noted the LHS has a plan underway to boost SAT scores. Additionally, Tremblay said the high school is going to administer the PSAT during the school day instead of on Saturdays.
“We are doing this to raise the (PSAT) participation rates,” Tremblay told the Villager.
Tremblay will also be requesting $550,000 in capital requests in FY’16 budget.
Similar to previous fiscal years, school officials will once again be requesting $250,000 for technology expenses. Tremblay said the funds will be used to make both elementary schools wireless, replace outdated Smart Boards and purchase Chromebooks for incoming high school freshman.
School Committee Vice Chairwoman Susie Cleary said the Technology Committee previously recommended instituting a bring your own device policy three years ago. She inquired whether or not the school department could move in that direction in the future.
Tremblay said there are some schools who have developed BYOD polices but she said the issue with BYOD policies is its nearly impossible for school districts to control the devices and prohibit things such as games. She said school officials want to purchase Chromebooks next year because they are more affordable than iPads.
“We really feel the Chromebook is the way to go,” said Tremblay. “The Chromebook is half the price of an iPad, so we can get a better bang for our buck.”
In addition to the $250,000 requested for technology, Tremblay is requesting $300,000 for one-time expenses.
Tremblay is requesting $225,000 to improve school security. According to School Finance Director Tom Geary, the school department wants to have 118 cameras overseeing the towns’ schools. He said some of the cameras would replace “outdated cameras” and new cameras would also be purchased that will be located in new locations, including the fields complex. He said the school department will continue using functional cameras.
The superintendent also wants to install a buzzer system and main office display at LHS similar to the town’s three other schools.
“We have to keep our students safe and our teachers safe,” said Tremblay. “We have some pretty big gaps that we need to address.”
Tremblay is also requesting $75,000 to relocate Lynnfield Preschool to Summer Street School. She said the funds would be used to outfit existing classrooms at Summer Street in addition to moving costs.
According to Tremblay, the plan to relocate the preschool to Summer Street would be beneficial to both local and school officials because it would create additional space at LMS, Senior Center and Town Hall. She said the school department will move out of Town Hall and will develop a district central office at the current preschool location, 525 Salem St.
Tremblay also said relocating the preschool to Summer Street would be beneficial because Summer Street has resources available to preschool students such as the gym and playground equipment.
Hayman inquired how long the preschool would be able to stay at Summer Street.
Tremblay said the school department hired a consultant to conduct a study about the proposal, which revealed Summer Street would be able to house the preschool for at least four or five years.
“We don’t have a crystal ball but this isn’t something we would have put on the table if we weren’t fairly confident that we would be able to do it and reap the benefits,” said Tremblay.
Tremblay and the School Committee are scheduled to present the proposed FY’16 school budget to the Board of Selectmen on Monday, Feb. 23. The budget will also be presented to the Finance Committee on March 22.
Barrett encouraged townspeople to weigh-in on the school budget proposal at upcoming meetings.