Tri-Town Special Education Costs Discussed

A vote was taken and approved at the Joint School Committee meeting of the Old Rochester Regional District, which was held at 6:30 on January 19, 2012 at the Tri-Town Conference Room at the ORR facility at 135 Marion Road, Mattapoisett, to form a sub-committee to look into how special education costs, per town, are distributed within  the tri-town and the district.

The concept discussed was to pool all special needs monies for the tri-town, including students from kindergarden through age 22, as required by Massachusetts law.

Currently, each town has an individual budget to handle special needs expenses within each town and the district, meaning the ORR District Central Office (administration) and the junior and senior high school, have a separate budget.

Each town has an approximate budget of five million and the district, meaning the junior and senior high school, has an additional fifteen million, with the total for special needs in the area of thirty million in total.

The committee discussed the difficulty of each town handling the expenses of special needs in the elementary area, without support from the district, because of the way the budget is structured.

“It’s a crap shoot”, said Timothy Scholz, a Rochester School Committee member, “each year it’s an unknown that we have to work with…we need to smooth out the spikes that occur in each town.”  Members of the committee agreed that the idea of combining the budgeted funds for all grades and all towns should be considered.

The committee agreed to take the issue back to the individual school committees with the intention to form a district sub-committee with representatives from each school committee and the junior and senior high school to consider and make recommendations on the issue. If the committee agrees to combine the monies for special needs in grades kindergarten to age 22, each town would have to vote, at town meeting, to approve the change in how the budget item is funded.

In a lighter moment, Sharon Hartley opened the meeting by passing around an old copy of the Presto Press, circa 1962, which showed a photo of the Old Rochester Regional High School under construction on the cover.  “My Uncle and Aunt owned this newspaper and they passed away, and we were looking at old issues recently, from their home, and this one was one I thought I’d bring to circulate,” said Ms. Hartley.

“I wasn’t in the first class, but in one of the first classes to attend and there were approximately one hundred students in my grade,” said Ms. Hartley.

Committee member Charles Motta said that he lived in Mattapoisett and attended Fairhaven High School, prior to the construction of the ORRHS.  “Those from Marion went to Wareham High,” he said.

The 2012-2013 school calendar was presented, voted upon and approved.  It shows a February break of 2/18 – 2/22 and an April break of 4/15 – 4/19.  The last day of school would be June 13, depending upon snow days incurred.

Committee member Christine Winters brought up the issue of Thanksgiving week and absenteeism.  “Some parents pull their children out for vacation that week…I think we should talk about that and the March vacation that colleges and prep schools have vacation…if we are interested in days absent from school…let’s discuss it,” said Ms. Winters.

Superintendent White said that, coming from a district in New Hampshire, “we had a longer school year…approximately 190 days per year, versus the 181 in Massachusetts…  we also had this discussion…this is an area with little room…but we can discuss it in the future as an agenda item for the next budget (2014).”

The committee discussed the Superintendent’s Evaluation Process and handed out a nine page sheet with dates and goals for the evaluation.  Ms. Hartley asked the committee members to read it, keep notes and be prepared for the evaluation process.

Elise Frangos, Director of Curriculum, discussed the recent professional development day, held on January 13, and the upcoming one on January 18.  In the discussion of the presentations, Ms. Frangos said that one focal point was on the ‘supervision and evaluation tool‘ set up as a model for teacher performance, which will come into play in September of 2012 for Mattapoisett and Rochester, and in 2013 for Marion.  According to Ms. Frangos, the tool has two prongs: student performance and professional practices.

A power point presentation of the proposed School and Family Policy was provided and committee members discussed and approved it.  The Animals in Schools Policy was also discussed and approved, allowing the principal in each school to screen and approve or disapprove animals into the school building.

School Business Administrator,  Katherine Isernio, said that recent news articles highlighted an issue with the Plymouth County Retirement system as having “unearthed issues”, which may impact the excess and deficiency budget item.  The shortfall involves retirees from the central office of the district.  “We’ll be meeting on Monday (1/23/12) to resolve it,” said Ms. Isernio.

The minutes of the prior meeting of October 27, 2011 were accepted.

Without further business to come before the board, they adjourned at 8:05 p.m. to go into Executive Session.

By Joan Hartnett-Barry

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