Elementary schools were the focus of Thursday night's budget discussions.
Superintendent Chris Hottel recently presented his budget recommendations for next year -- $38.4 million, a 3.9 percent increase over this year's budget -- which would include an expansion of therapeutic intervention programs into the middle school, $200,000 for elementary school literacy programs currently funded by grant money and $160,000 for assistant principal positions at the Franklin and Sargent elementary schools because those schools have more than 500 students.
Thursday night, the School Committee met again to get feedback about the proposal from those who deal with elementary school children directly.
“We have many kids right now who aren’t being seen at all as far behavioral plans by a guidance counselor,” Mary Lou Connors said on behalf of the Early Childhood Center, which would gain a new guidance counselor with the new budget. The guidance counselor’s main responsibility would be creating behavioral plans for troubled kids. “The troubleshooting for the teachers is not able to happen. We don’t have a regular person (as a guidance counselor) who knows how a preschool runs.”
Mary Lou McCarthy, principal of Franklin Elementary School, speaking on behalf of her school and the Sargent Elementary School, expressed how much she needed assistant principals and noted the imbalance in the amount of administrators at the larger schools versus the amount at the elementary schools.
“When you’re in a huge building and you’re the only principal, what has to be your top priority is student safety,” McCarthy said. “That keeps you dealing at the management level, when you don’t have anyone else to delegate to, when you don’t share the responsibilities.”
Fostering performance from the start was a focus of discussion.
“What do you do when students aren’t learning?” Assistant Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson said, advocating a new system in which younger kids are assessed in short quizzes and tests and given intervention when they're not performing proficiently... Short and timely support services for students so that when they aren’t up to speed we get to them in a timely fashion, on a short term basis, so that they catch up."
Hottel's recommendation would provide $99,000 to fund an existing therapeutic intervention program currently supported by federal grant money.
"If you don’t attend to that, students will fall into what’s called remediation, which is long term. And if it’s long term, you know it’s more expensive," Hutchinson said. “The question would be, do you want a large intervention factory early on in K-3? If you do that, over time you will have a small remediation factory up at the high school level.”
The School Committee will discuss the budget again on Monday, Jan. 10, and will likely whittle the budget down before voting on it Jan. 20.