State Forecasts Full Return of Grades 3-6 in April

            The Mattapoisett and Marion School Committees each met over the past two weeks to review the full, in-person return of Grades K-2 and to hear a presentation of the FY22 budget for ORR and the elementary schools. On February 24, Marion School Committee was told by ORR Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson that on February 23, Governor Baker told municipalities to ready their plans to get all elementary school students back in the building on a full-time basis as early as April.

            “I’m proud of the work we’ve done since spring and summer. We have so many of the mitigation models already in place,” said Nelson. “I know that the Sippican School community will be ready to do what we need to do moving forward.”

            “Who would ever have thought that kids wanted to be in school?” said Marion School Committee Chairman Michelle Smith, who publicly thanked the teacher’s union for its partnership amidst an unprecedented challenge.

            Sippican’s Grade K-6 numbers as of February 24 stood at 61 fully remote learners, 135 full in-person, 185 hybrid, and 21 home-schooled.

            “I’m not sure if the parents were more excited or the children,” said Sippican School Principal Marla Sirois of the recent K-2 return, noting that school buses now back up to Park Street, and traffic flow is more like it was before the pandemic.

            Having hit the wall as individual towns seek more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Tri-Town collaborated last week with ORR and Representative Bill Straus on a pitch to become a regional vaccine distribution center for educators. Marion already succeeded at distributing the Moderna vaccine to first responders from Marion, Mattapoisett, Rochester, and Wareham.

            In his Reopening Update to the Mattapoisett School Committee, Nelson thanked many for a successful K-2 reopening that commenced on January 19. Mattapoisett K-6 numbers as of February 22 stand at 153 Center School students and 216 Old Hammondtown students attending full in-person, 23 fully-remote, and 11 home-schooled.

            Mattapoisett School Committee member Carly Lavin spoke about the Joint Labor Management Committee’s work that examined several hypothetical return-to-school scenarios and plans for another meeting for this week.

            Old Hammondtown School Associate Principal Kevin Tavares said the school made some minor adjustments to dropoff and pickup of students.

            A day before DESE told towns to prepare to bring back grades 3-6 as early as April, Mattapoisett School Committee member Shannon Finning asked about grade 3 and when families will learn about plans for the fall.

            Nelson indicated his anticipation of new information (that would come the next day) on reopening guidance, and Lavin acknowledged the urgency of a full grade 3 return while reinforcing grades 4-6 to be of comparable importance.

            “[Grades 4-6] have missed the opportunity, social opportunities to be with their friends, social-emotional learning as well,” said Lavin. “Grade 6, it’s really an important year for them as well before they move on to the junior high.”

            In presenting an adjusted FY22 draft budget to the local school committees, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Howie Barber referenced “numerous meetings” with budget subcommittees and that “decisions were made collaboratively” in achieving what he called a “level budget.”

            School committees were not expected to take action in last week’s meetings in which they were presented overviews in their towns.

            Marion was presented a decrease in the original December 2020 projected budget of $6,408,874, a $225,647 or 3.65 percent increase over the approved FY21 budget of $6,183,227, down to $6,243,227 (a $213,588 or 3.42 percent increase over FY21).

            Mattapoisett was presented a decrease from a January 13 projected budget figure of $7,481,174, a level-service budget indicating a $208,699 or 2.87 percent increase over FY21, down to $7,466,815 (a modified, zero-based budget maintaining level services at a $194,340 or 2.67 percent increase over FY21). This is a 2.67 percent increase over Mattapoisett’s FY21 approved budget of $7,272,475.

            The figures do not include the tuition for sending Tri-Town students to Bristol County Agricultural High School. Marion faces a $126,600 hit ($9,000 increase over FY21) to support Bristol Aggie based on cost per student. Mattapoisett’s four students attending Bristol Aggie cost $86,456 plus $40,290 in transportation, a $41,750 increase over FY21.

            Net increases in Marion in student services for FY22 include tuition-based programs at $74,000, bus transportation at $58,000, bus monitors at $25,000, and regular day transportation $25,000. Net decreases in Marion include building-based materials at $5,000, tech-based software and equipment at $5,000, and supplies at $3,200. Chapter 70 (state aid) funding of $872,434 is assumed in Marion’s budget and includes a proposed $30 per student increase, a net increase of $31,500 over FY21.

            Barber told Mattapoisett School Committee that its FY22 budget includes no staff reductions, albeit in light of two retirement notifications and pending contract negotiations.

            Mattapoisett schools project FY22 net increases of $20,000 (superintendent’s operations), $20,000 (transportation), $59,000 (utilities and maintenance), and $12,000 (tech-based software and equipment). Net decreases in Mattapoisett include: Chapter 70 (state aid) funding of $851,365 that is assumed in Mattapoisett’s budget and includes a proposed $30 per student increase, a net increase of $11,880 over FY21 or 0.01415 percent.

            Offsets in both towns’ proposed school budgets include $120,000 in grants, $62,000 in circuit breaker reimbursement, and $65,000 in revolving funds (outside building rental and early-childhood programs).

            Barber set April 7 as a target date for the Marion School Committee meeting to approve the FY22 budget. Mattapoisett School Committee is anticipating a budget vote within a few weeks. Nelson clarified that Bristol Aggie is part of the ORR school budget but is not included in ORR’s 2.5 percent increase.

            In other business, the Mattapoisett School Committee voted to approve the Student Opportunity Act, enacting a three-year program focused on early literacy. The program’s goal is to identify high-need students at a young age and close the gap for those students and ultimately impact MCAS testing and graduate rates.

            Nelson acknowledged that Mattapoisett Principal Rose Bowman was out of school on leave at the time of the committee’s meeting and that she is in the thoughts of the ORR faculty, staff, and committee members.

            Nelson told the Marion committee members that personnel changes that have transpired over the last couple of weeks would be on the agenda for the committee’s next meeting.

            The Marion School Committee is scheduled to meet again on April 7 at 6:30 pm. Mattapoisett School Committee is scheduled to meet on March 29 at 6:30 pm.

Marion, Mattapoisett School Committees

By Mick Colageo

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