The numbers don’t lie, as the saying goes. And the numbers of students enrolling in Mattapoisett’s local schools – Center School and Old Hammondtown School – continues to trend downward. This fact has been discussed at many school committee and other Town board meetings for the last several years.
Bolstered by census numbers and projections developed by studies undertaken by Southeastern Regional Planning and Development District, the population trends for Mattapoisett and the whole of Tri-Town has shown an increase in the number of people nearing or of retirement age and beyond versus younger. On March 13, that decline was again discussed as the Mattapoisett Finance Committee met with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Doug White and local school Principal Rose Bowman to review the fiscal year 2020 school budget.
According to both White and Bowman, in keeping with enrollment projections, they have cut another teaching position from the budget, as has been the practice for the last couple years.
“We have been reducing [by] one classroom teacher and managed the classroom size,” White said.
In their report titled “Actual and Projected Enrollment”, the Center School student population for the 2018-2019 school year stood at 254, with three classes each for grades kindergarten through grade 3. Old Hammondtown School had 191 students for grades 4, 5, and 6, with grade 4 having three classes and grades 5 and 6 with four classes each. The elementary classes averaged 17 students per class.
The projected classroom numbers were virtually the same for the 2019-2020 school year. Center School projections stand at 255 and Old Hammondtown at 191. Grades kindergarten through 3 are planned to have three classes each with an average class size of 18 students. Old Hammondtown, with the staff reduction, will have three classes each for grades 4, 5, and 6, with an average class size of 18.
As for the budget, White discussed contractual increases for teaching staff along with modest administrative upticks. He also said that Old Hammondtown is no longer considered a Title I school; therefore, it is no longer eligible for grants under that program. This will equate to a revenue source shortfall of $18,000, which, he said, “We’ll have to pick-up in the budget.”
Finance Committee Chairman Pat Donoghue asked, “What does the Title I teacher do?” Bowman answered, “Those students are provided support in multiple ways. … For students who need extra support, there are small groups within the classroom,” for which, Bowman said, a paraprofessional provided the assistance.
The budget breakdown listed a line item of $28,858 for a Title I reading tutor and $26,020 for a Title I math tutor.
The costs paid by the Town for older students attending Bristol County Agricultural High School are born out in the local school budget, White said. For the coming school year, that figure is $83,100. An additional cost of $30,000 for transportation was also listed.
The biggest increases were from contractual adjustments with a 15.2-percent increase planned for the superintendent’s office with the addition of a second assistant superintendent for $22,724, deemed by White as “an opportunity to do something different at the central office.” He also indicated that, while that figure is there now, the new position might not come to fruition.
The English and math budgets both impacted by a withdrawal of Title I funding will increase by 27.6 percent and 17.8 percent, respectively, and the special education administration line item went up by 22.9 percent.
When all the numbers shake out, Mattapoisett local schools need an overall increase of 2.98 percent. The FY19 approved budget was $6,994,224; FY20 is proposed at $7,202,580.
Bowman talked about the “Go Math!” program, which she said had been “extremely successful in the children’s ability to comprehend the importance of math.” She said the program gave students a deeper appreciation for the everyday use of math, from shopping at the grocery store to planning a household budget –“lifelong, critical skills,” she said.
On a somewhat related topic, FinCom member Paul Amoruso asked, “What do we do to make sure a kid lives here?” He said he has suspected that grandparents are saying some children live with them, but in reality, they are merely using a local address in order to go to school in Mattapoisett.
White said that when a case is brought to the attention of the school district, a police investigation is conducted, which includes staking out a residence. He said that when a student enrolls in school, the parents are required to provide supporting documentation. White confirmed that, in such cases, if it is proven that a student is not a resident of the town, the family is asked to withdraw the student.
Bowman said, in cases where a family may be moving out of the community after April, students may be allowed to finish the school year in Mattapoisett.
But, even if such cases are uncovered, Donoghue said, “There’s no bump up in the numbers. They are shrinking.”
“I’m very proud of our schools,” said Bowman. “We are very fortunate to have the staff we have, but it’s still a collaborative effort with the parents.” She also said that for the coming school year, no notifications for retirement had been received from the teaching staff.
Town Administrator Michael Gagne told the FinCom members that there are seven more departments awaiting their review as the FY20 budget planning continues ahead of the May Town Meeting.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee is planned for March 20 at 5:00 pm in the Town Hall conference room.
Mattapoisett Finance Committee
By Marilou Newell