Citing two separate parties who had reached out to her about the Fair Share Amendment, Chairperson Heather Burke put the matter up for a discussion on the Old Rochester Regional School Committee’s May 18 public-meeting agenda. The committee, she explained, could choose to act on the matter or not. The committee then opened for comments from the public.
First to speak was Dr. Colin Everett, president of the Old Rochester Professional Educators Association, high school history teacher and debate-team coach. Everett laid out the basics of the Fair Share Amendment, a statewide referendum question on the November ballot that would create an additional 4 percent tax on any income over $1,000,000. The resulting $2,000,000,000 in new revenue would be put towards funding public education and infrastructure maintenance.
Everett spoke passionately in his recommendation that the committee endorse the draft resolution, as over two dozen other school committees in the commonwealth already have.
Up next was Sharon Matzek, a citizen of Marion and the other party who requested this item be discussed. She stated that the Fair Share Amendment would help balance out the rising needs of public education and urged the committee to resist the “knee-jerk reaction” to taxes in general, stating that only 2.5 percent of the households in Plymouth County qualify as “millionaires.” She went on to assert that many “tax loopholes” favor the upper class and that those in that income bracket “pay a much, much lower (tax) rate.”
Committee member Suzanne Tseki raised concerns over where the “line” is drawn when it comes to higher taxes and would subsequently vote against the motion alongside committee member Joe Pires.
As both Everett and Matzek stated, the Fair Share Amendment would only apply to those with annual income over $1,000,000. To paraphrase Matzek, if someone earned $1,000,001, that person would be taxed an additional 4 percent only on the $1 above $1,000,000. If an individual’s annual income was $999,999, the amendment would have no effect.
A motion to recommend the measure was made and seconded, but the vote that saw six of eight members in attendance in favor of a positive recommendation fell just short of the necessary percentage to carry.
Mike Naylor was invited to join the committee at the table in order to provide details on an upcoming trip for the high school students. Proposed to take place during February break in 2024, the recommended destination was Rome, through Pompeii and eventually on to Athens. Fundraising and payment plans will be implemented to help with costs and ensure any student interested is able to take the trip.
Member Francis Kearns’ question about how COVID protocols might affect travel, Naylor detailed an optional protection plan that would cost an additional $295. The plan would allow students to obtain a complete refund up to 24 hours before the trip should they need to cancel due to COVID or other circumstances. The plan would also provide extended accommodations to students and chaperones on the return trip should quarantine be necessary before reentering the country.
Naylor noted that he was able to testify on such safety measures personally; he had experienced their implementation on the previous trip.
The motion to authorize the trip as presented was passed unanimously.
In giving the Financial Report in Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Howie Barber’s absence, Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson stated that there remained $30,000 in the academic year’s budget. The next Financial Report will be the end-of-year report.
Jill Hennesy, director of Food Services, raised praise for the transitional program, which serves students ages 18-22. Nelson said that the food-service team has done fantastic work creating opportunities for students and working on life skills.
The committee complimented Hennesy and the food and cafeteria staff for their work. No word was given on extending the free-meal passes to June 30; news on the extension will be communicated as soon as that information is available.
In her Chairperson’s Report, Burke took time to remind those in attendance that the chairperson sets the agenda, so when emailing to request something be added to the meeting agenda, do so to her directly rather than emailing the entire committee. Burke went on to remind other members that they should not reply to emails directly, as it could violate state Open Meeting Law.
With that business conducted, Burke took a moment during her penultimate committee meeting for a more personal message of gratitude. She named a number of different teachers for their roles in helping her children in their scholastic journey. Whether it was allergy-friendly snacks or sparking a love of engineering, she took time to thank them for their support and care, ending with the touching sentiment, “your lessons truly live on long, long after that last assignment.”
The Central Office Report included news relayed from the governor’s office that each of the four school districts received $50,000 from a summer expansion grant. The money will be used to expand the Stay Active & Independent for Life (SAIL) program, with a focus on student’s social and emotional well-being and growth. More information on the grant and its implementation will be released in the coming weeks.
New teacher orientation was scheduled for May 25, according to Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell.
Director of Student Services Craig Davidson reported that two ORR Unified Team athletes qualified at the MIAA South Sectional track meet to compete in the state Unified meet.
High School Principal Mike Devoll discussed “surviving senior events” in his Principal’s Report. An email was sent out to students and caregivers detailing upcoming school events, as well as laying out suggestions on things like what to wear, who should attend, etc., though it was emphasized that seniors are only one-fourth of the entire student body and should not be fixated on more than other grades.
With that in mind, Devoll turned to the subject of upcoming field trips. The school has partnered with Junior Achievement to plan five field trips, open to all grades and centered around potential career interests, including those in banking and finance, marine science and healthcare. Trips will include Bay Coast Bank, UMass Dartmouth and Prima CARE, respectively.
Student Representative Eddie Gonet asked to clarify if seniors could attend and was told they could so as long as the trips do not coincide with final exams.
Devoll commended Kate Butler, the Advanced Placement Art teacher, for her work on the art show that continues through Thursday, May 26, at the Mattapoisett Public Library. He discussed the May 23 promotion ceremony for the eighth graders, the first of its kind, crafted to celebrate the students who had missed out on traditional scholastic experiences due to the ongoing pandemic.
ORR Junior High Principal Silas Coellner updated the committee on activities, including a student-leadership conference. He estimated that a couple hundred parents would be in the school building on May 25 for transition activities. A promotion ceremony for eighth graders was scheduled for May 23.
Gonet delivered the Student Advisory Council Report, his last as student representative. Gonet thanked the committee, noting what an honor it had been for him and ended to a room full of applause. Several committee members went on to praise Gonet’s work as both a student and representative to the committee.
Burke recalled being Gonet’s soccer coach years ago, noting that of all the young players he was the only one to ever approach her after practice, shake her hand and thank her for her work. This was met with another hearty round of applause.
“That feels like such a good end point, but we have more meeting,” said Burke.
The Budget Subcommittee reported that the budget was passed after a “stress test” of the capital stabilization fund. That budget included money for the guidance counselor and resurfacing of the high school track. Plans for implementation are ongoing and likely to continue into September.
The Communications Subcommittee put forth a suggestion to promote transparency on the committee’s inner workings in order to clarify its role for the community.
Pires suggested a document outlining the committee’s inner workings to better communicate necessary information and elucidate committee infrastructure and operation. Member Jim Muse made a point to thank Pires for his work on the Communications Subcommittee and stated that he looked forward to his continued work on such matters.
After ensuring that there was nothing further to report from any of the other subcommittees, an Executive Session was called into motion, and the public meeting only resumed to adjourn.
The next meeting of the ORR School Committee is scheduled for Wednesday, June 22, and the Joint School Committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday, June 23. Both meetings are scheduled for 6:30 pm.
ORR School Committee
By Jack Staier