The budget faces a substantial increase of almost a million dollars for fiscal year 2015 just to maintain level services, mostly because of the rising cost of insurance, along with salary increases across the board.
The five-percent increase in spending raised some eyebrows during preliminary School Committee budget discussions on January 15, which remained brief for the time being. The district is waiting for the governor’s budget to be released next Wednesday to see if any of the burden would be alleviated though state funding, and once the district’s revenue numbers are in, committee members will have a clearer picture on what the budget will look like.
“I wanted to get a budget in your hands so you could see what it will take to maintain our current level of services,” said Superintendent Doug White.
The current draft budget shows salary increases totaling about $433,000, and an estimated increase of $296,000 for insurance, for a total of $729,000 in fixed spending. The whole FY15 budget increase totals exactly $828,285.
Committee members will continue to deliberate the budget into February and will hold a public hearing in March.
In non-budget matters, ORRHS Principal Michael Devoll presented a number of changes in programs of study to begin with the current freshman class of 2017, mostly to bring the curriculum into compliance with the new Common Core State Standard.
There would be an increase in the number of credits required for graduation, up from 110 to 120.
“We don’t think it’s going to hold anyone back from graduating,” Devoll said. “But it will give them a good senior year.”
Devoll also proposed restoring the two-year language requirement for graduation, while phasing out all French courses because of consistently low enrollment.
Several teachers attended the meeting to speak in favor of keeping the French program, and the committee is seeking public input, suggesting that those wishing to make comments on whether or not to keep the French program contact either Principal Devoll or Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos, preferably through email.
Other proposed changes are the addition of a level-A calculus course, an increase from two to three years for science and technology, and the restoration of the four-year physical education requirement, currently at two years.
The district would provide students with three pathways for meeting the PE requirement: school PE electives, participation in school athletic teams, or outside physical activity i.e. karate, skating, yoga totaling 30 hours in a year.
School districts are allowed to decide at the local level what counts in order to meet the requirement.
Devoll also proposed bringing the district’s current grade point average system in line with the GPA system utilized by state colleges and universities.
Currently, the district uses a 5.2 scale GPA system, and would move to adopt a 4.0 GPA scale which would give more weight to honors-level courses and make transitioning to college easier. Devoll said it would give more incentive for students to join dual-enrolled courses.
In other news, the committee approved continuing the trial run of delayed-start school days for the rest of the school year. Twice per month, educators are granted morning time to meet and collaborate with each other on Common Core curriculum planning and preparation.
“I don’t know what we would have done without it,” said Devoll. “The teachers would have had to meet outside school. Having the built-in time … is far more valuable than if they had to do it alone.”
While teachers use the morning time to collaborate, students utilize the time to study independently or with groups, which one parent at the meeting said has been very helpful for her daughter.
The committee approved a banquet fundraiser for Oxfam America Hunger on February 27 at the junior high school. The ticket price would be $5, and to demonstrate the “disproportion of the poverty level,” as described by ORR Jr. High School Assistant Principal Silas Coellner, some guests will be given a dinner of just rice, or rice with beans, while others will receive a full-menu dinner.
By Jean Perry