School Committee to Hold Public Hearing on 2015-'16 Budget
School Committee Chairman Dan Ranieri
Edward Fleury, Superintendent of Schools, pointed out that each year the bulk of the school budget is made up of fixed costs that cannot be changed. These costs include contractual salary obligations, utility and insurance costs, and federally mandated programs for Special Education.
The majority of new costs presented this year pertain to the costs associated with the grade reconfiguration within the schools. With the closing of Clara Macy Elementary School, the two remaining elementary schools will house grades K-3. Grade 4 will move to BMMS, which will then contain grades 4-7. Grade 8 will move up to the high school. There are many one-time fees associated with moving staff, classrooms, and technology to their new spaces.
Bellingham High School Principal Peter Marano included a request for a second Vice Principal at BHS because of the additional grade. This additional administrator will help with teacher evaluations and program administration. BHS plans to establish academy-style programs in areas such as Fine Arts. This would incorporate traditional classes with on-line courses and possibly collaborative programs with other districts.
Additionally, Marano requested the purchase of a new laptop cart since the existing computer labs will be converted into classrooms as part of the reconfiguration. He noted that currently teachers use the computer labs constantly and that access must still be available to the teachers and their students.
Another possible future program addresses the establishment of an Industrial Arts program at BHS. School Committee Chairman Ranieri noted that years ago students interested in Industrial Arts could attend a vocational high school. However, today vocational schools such as Blackstone Valley Tech or Tri-County Tech have become either purely technical schools or charter schools. Most public high schools have long since cut Industrial Arts programs because of budget cuts and the availability of other programs. However, now that students looking for this training may not be able to meet the entrance standards of vocational technical high schools and public high schools have cut these programs, a gap now exists. Marano said that he would love to incorporate these courses as well as business courses such as Economics and Accounting curriculums.
National Honor Society Advisor Amy-June Remy requested and received approval to establish a Junior National Honor Society for 8-9th grade students at the high school. She noted that at conferences there has been great enthusiasm for such an organization among the younger groups.
The School Committee discussed possible changes to the after-school-care program currently run by the YMCA. They voted to extend the existing contract for one year. Then early next year, they will conduct a study to determine not only the day-care needs for Bellingham parents, but also the most efficient use of the facilities once the school transition is complete. The study will include options for “wrap-around” programs and the possibility of extending the program to include Pre-K (currently after-school care begins in kindergarten). The wrap-around program would consist of care beginning at each of the schools prior to the school day beginning at 7:00 am and running after school through 6:00 pm.
The Bellingham Early Childhood Program will entertain the option of providing a preschool class at South Elementary School. Presently, all BECP classes are housed on the north end of town at Stall Brook Elementary.
Special Education Director Rachel Lawrence noted that the summer programs will shift locations so as not to interrupt maintenance staff who are moving classrooms for the reconfiguration. Both Preschool and Stall Brook ABA programs will remain in their current classrooms. At BMMS, the ABA summer program will move to the opposite wing of the school near the vocational classrooms. This will enable maintenance workers to have access to the front hallway, where the ABA rooms are normally housed, in order to transition the 4th- grade classrooms to that area. The high school programs will remain in their designated classrooms. The other K-4 Special Education Programs will conduct summer session in the portable classrooms at South. The programs for students in grades 5-8, plus the summer enrichment programs, will be held at the Primavera School.
Primavera High School Principal David Cutler requested approval for a tuition increase at PJP for out-of-district students. The increase will remain competitive since the program still remains as one of the least expensive alternative high school programs in the area.
Fleury outlined the Frequently Asked Questions portion of the informational site for the pay-to-ride bus program. Bellingham will continue to provide free busing for students in grades K-7 who live over two miles away from their school. All 8-12 students and those K-7 students within two miles will be charged $180 per year. Families must register for busing by May 15 for this fee. After May 15, the fee increases to $230. After June 1, students will be placed on a waiting list and can buy bus passes on an available space basis. All students must register by June 1 to be guaranteed a seat on the bus whether eligible for free busing or not.
The late buses will continue to run as they do currently in order to accommodate students who need to remain after school for additional academic help, to participate in clubs or serve detention. Late buses are given out by the teachers so they would be able to control who receives them in order to ensure that the student remained late for a legitimate reason.