Holding with Superintendent Doug White’s recommendation, the Rochester School Committee voted to inform the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that the district will withdraw from the school choice obligation for the next school year.
May 1 was the public hearing for school choice discussion, during which White ran down a list of factors for consideration such as staff reduction, class size, and an unanticipated potential increase in students moving into the district.
The committee had prior discussions about possibly allotting a few slots for the kindergarten, but after White pointed out that two teachers and paraprofessionals were cut from the FY15 budget, and as class sizes now stand at 16 students, the committee decided to forego the prospective revenue of $5,000 per school choice student to avoid any possible negative impacts to children already in the district.
With the possibility of a rise in population after the staff reduction, “It doesn’t really fit at this time,” stated White.
Also during the meeting, the committee adopted the final draft of the district’s new Lunch Charging Policy, which will allow students with overdue balances to charge up to five meals before an alternative lunch of a cheese or WOWBUTTER® sandwich is offered.
The policy calls for administration to contact parents who have not paid the overdue accounts well ahead of the potential for an overdue lunch, and Rochester Memorial School Principal Derek Medeiros said he is confident in the school-home communication process and does not anticipate any problems getting the word across to parents in time before the alternate lunch is offered.
“We do reach out in a number of ways,” said Medeiros, including emails and phone calls. He added that since reaching out to parents around Christmas, the school has seen a significant increase in families who have applied and qualified for free or reduced lunches, which has alleviated some of the problems with overdue accounts.
“I don’t think it’s put in place to be punitive,” said White about the alternative lunch option. Rather, he said it is just best to have an official policy in place to work with families.
In other news, the committee approved an agreement with the YMCA for its symbiotic usage of RMS for the YMCA’s after school child care program.
New Chairperson Sharon Hartley was part of the negotiations with the YMCA, and after calculating related costs of using the facility annually for the program, including utilities and other aspects of wear and tear, they came up with the amount of $1,800.
The YMCA has agreed to split the amount by paying the school $900 annually and by providing the school with learning opportunities, like field trips and presentations, equal to $900.
The committee approved a building use policy for RMS that encourages community use of the building without an added financial burden to taxpayers. Facilities Director Gene Jones said the other districts would likely use the new policy as a model for their own building use policies.
At the start of the meeting, the committee acknowledged former School Committee member Tim Sholtz, who lost the last election, by thanking him publically and by donating a book to the library in his honor.
The committee also acknowledged RMS sixth-grader Ian McCann, who came in fourth place at the state geography bee in Worcester in April.
McCann’s mother gave an emotional thanks to the Rochester School District for their contribution toward Ian’s academic success, after years on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), of which, as of last year, he no longer requires.
The committee reorganized, with an awkward moment between committee members while voting for chairman. New committee member Jennifer Kulak nominated a willing Tina Rood, and Robin Rounseville nominated Hartley.
Hartley said that since this would most likely be her last year on the committee and since Rood had already served as chairman, Hartley would appreciate the chance to serve as chair. The vote was 3-2, in favor of Hartley. Rood will continue as vice-chairman.
The next meeting of the Rochester School Committee is June 3 at 6:30 pm at the RMS music room, pending availability of the Town Hall meeting room.
By Jean Perry