New School Estimated at $37.9 Million
State expected to cover about 37%
by Heather Kelley
January 7, 2011 — At last night’s School Committee meeting, Chair Rebecca Robak provided a brief summary of the status of the Elementary School Building Committee’s submission to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. “We’re following the process,” said Robak. Superintendent Jack Phelan added that the project “has gone through a very intense, critical review.” The Committee is set with its February 9th meeting date with the MSBA, at which point Hopkinton will learn if the plan for the proposed Fruit Street school has passed muster. If it has, the MSBA will disclose what share of the cost the state will bear, and what the town will be left to shoulder, should voters approve the measure at a March Special Town Meeting. The total project is currently estimated to cost $37.9 million, with the MSBA expected to cover in the area of $14 million.
The School Committee launched a new page on their web site devoted to the new elementary school project, which can be found at https://sites.google.com/a/hopkinton.k12.ma.us/hesbc/. While a lot of information is available, Member Jean Bertschmann cautioned that some items, such as the project photos of the exterior and interior, are still in the schematic design phase. “These are not final,” Bertschmann said. Also on the page is a link entitled “Informational Forums,” which lists the office hours, principal’s coffees, and community forums where members of the School Committee will be available for questions and discussion. A community forum is scheduled for Wednesday, January 12th (snow date January 18th) at 7 pm at Center School. A tour of the school will be offered, followed by a question and answer session.
The School Committee reviewed the policy that concerns gifts to teachers. The State Ethics Commission recently changed the rules concerning gifts to public employees, becoming effective this past December 24th. Prominent among the changes handed down is that teachers are now required to disclose, in writing to their principals, all personal gifts received from individuals. Group gifts from the class under $150 may be received without filing paperwork, but the names of the individual gift-givers may not be disclosed. Expressing frustration with the red tape, Committee Members Robak, Bertschmann, and Nancy Burdick directed Assistant Superintendent Mary Colombo to consult with the teachers on their feelings about the new requirements. Member Troy Mick raised the possibility of having an easy, online submission sheet for the disclosure of gifts. Another option was to see if teachers would prefer a no-personal-gift policy, with all gifts instead going to the classrooms; the Ethics Commission does not require the disclosure of such non-personal gifts.
The first round of budget presentations arrived tonight, with the principals of the High School and the Middle School, and the Athletic Director, presenting their budgets. Conversations are currently open, with no final decisions to be made, said Chair Robak, until all budgets have been presented.
“The good news is, we haven’t lost anything,” said High School Principal Alyson Geary. Included in her preliminary budget is a Mandarin Chinese teacher, who will continue the program started this year by exchange teacher Jiling Pan. Pan is teaching in Hopkinton this year as part of the Teachers of Critical Languages Program out of the State Department. A one-year grant is funding her presence here, a grant that Geary hopes to secure for a second year. However, should Hopkinton’s request not be granted, the line item will ensure the continuation of the Chinese program at Hopkinton High School. Funding will come, if not from the grant, from the income generated by the tuition payments of F-1 visa students; 9 international students are here this year, each paying $11,600. Superintendent Phelan again voiced his hope that this income will eventually fund a foreign language program at the elementary school level. Foreign language study currently doesn’t start until the 7th grade.
“We’ll have to squeeze a little bit, and push,” admitted Geary, saying she was concerned about class sizes in some areas, especially math. Next year’s incoming grade 9 currently has 23 more students than the outgoing class of seniors; that, combined with possible move-ins over the summer, means that Geary will have to keep her eye on enrollments.
Geary also offered her concern that “things are expiring in the High School.” Having been built in 2001, the school contains a number of items whose useful life spans have been reached, she said. As an example, Geary told the Committee about two refrigerators used to keep perishable science materials that failed this year, incurring expenses that had no budget line-items, and necessitating the pulling of funds from other areas. Treadmills in the fitness center are also showing their age, Geary added; while she had hoped to replace them slowly, one per year, these expenses have been put off in order to preserve the core aspects of the budget. However, Geary said, at some point the machines will fail, and then the risk is run that many will have to be replaced at once. Superintendent Phelan agreed with this problem of running at bare-bones levels, pointing as an example to textbooks that have not been replaced for years.
Athletic Director Eric Karjel presented the preliminary budget for the Athletic Deparment. While Karjel was pleased to announce that athletic fees will not increase, Member Troy Mick questioned whether some fees could actually be reduced, stating “we should not have fees in public schools.” While Karjel and Superintendent Phelan both agreed with the sentiment, both also offered the reality check that the fees are necessary to supplement the budget.
All current teams are slated to be retained. In addition, $2,000 is being requested for new software for “baseline head injury/concussion testing.” All students, those who play school sports as well as those who do not, will have baseline testing done, which will be repeated every two years. When a head injury occurs, another test can be given to ascertain the extent of the injury. Incidentally, a community forum on concussions will be held on Monday, January 10th, at 7 pm in the High School auditorium.
Alan Keller, the principal of the Middle School, gave the final budget presentation of the evening. His preliminary budget adds back the 6th grade teacher that was cut for this school year; without this teacher, Keller said, class sizes in next year’s 6th grade could exceed 25 students. Keller lamented the inability to bring foreign language instruction to the 6th grade next year; the school district’s Strategic Plan calls for increased foreign language instruction at the middle and elementary school levels by June of 2014. Member Bertschmann inquired as to the price tag of 6th grade foreign language instruction; Director of Finance Ralph Dumas replied that the cost of the teachers, without any instructional materials, comes to $150,000.
Member Jean Bertschmann offered an update on the search for a new superintendent for the school system. A community forum was held on January 5th, bringing in “tremendous feedback” from those in attendance, according to Bertschmann. A second forum will be held on Monday, January 10th (snowdate January 24th) at 10 am at the Senior Center. All residents are encouraged to attend.
Again this school year, the Perini Family Foundation made donations to the Hopkinton schools, enabling both Hopkins and Elmwood Schools to each purchase a SMART Board.
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