Draft School Dept. Budget Increase of $871,885
by Heather Kelley
December 17, 2010 — At Thursday night’s meeting of the School Committee, Superintendent Jack Phelan presented a preliminary FY12 budget to the members. A significant challenge to this year’s budget, Phelan said, was making up a $700,00 hole left by outside sources of funding received last year but not available this year. While attempting to fill that hole with cuts totaling $580,688 in expenses (including $368,103 from special education, $92,227 from building and grounds, and $55,298 from the central office), it was not enough to level the gap left from, among other things, $421,333 in increased contractual obligations. Of special interest to parents of rising Kindergartners is the need to make up $134,267 due to less revenue from the Full Day Kindergarten program. Due to lack of sufficient classroom space at Center School because of increased student enrollments, the school department is projecting to only be able to offer 2 classrooms of full-day Kindergarten in FY12, down from 4 this year. All told, there is an increase of $720,479 in payroll increases, and $151,406 in expense increases, resulting in a draft budget that weighs in at $33,189,883 (up $871,885, or 2.7%, from FY 11). This budget, Phelan said, maintains reasonable class sizes, maintains special education services, and introduces no new fees. The slide presentation of the budget will be available on the school website on Friday, Phelan said.
Committee Member Jean Bertschmann presented a draft schedule of forums, office hours, and tours for the residents in town to attend to learn more about the proposed new elementary school. Bertschmann noted that she tried to have one opportunity available each week, starting in January. The schedule will be available in January on the School Committee website. “We want people to have informed trust,” said Phelan. The thick binder containing the Feasibility Study will be made available; another reporter noted that a CD containing the Study is available at Action Copy for $5. Phelan suggested purchasing several copies of the CD and having them available at the library for interested readers. “The whole educational program plan is in there,” Phelan said.
The preliminary budget for the Fruit Street school has come in at $37.9 million. “That number represents the number for final design and construction of the school,” noted Phelan. Unlike the old process, where the final dollar amount came out in separate chunks of the design and then the construction, this new procedure can seem more expensive as compared to projects done under the old system, said Bertschmann. Owner’s Project Manager Brian Main commented that since schematic designs were completed first, the budget was more likely to be accurate.
The School Committee voted to request to retain Main as the Owner’s Project Manager for the duration of the school building project. Normally, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) would expect Hopkinton to hire a firm to fill this position, which serves as a liaison with the architects and the construction firm, and generally oversees the project. However, Member Troy Mick gave three compelling reasons for keeping Main in the role. First, he said, “Brian has very unique knowledge of this town and this project.” Mick added that Main has “a proven track record and history,” and he has the further advantage of “the ability to start soon.” Committee Chair Rebecca Robak recited a list of town projects with which Brian has been involved, including the High School and the Police Station. Even with hiring one full time and one part time assistant to manage the work load, Members Robak and Bertschmann both pointed out that retaining Main in the position would cost $650,000 instead of paying a firm an estimated $1 million. The MSBA will need to approve this decision.
The Committee also voted to use Construction Management at Risk as the project delivery method. In this model, a Construction Management at Risk firm is hired to direct the project, with the Owner’s Project Manager serving as the liaison and the owner’s representative. Main said that using this model offers a “guaranteed maximum price” for the project. If project costs run over budget, the financial risk is borne by the hired firm. However, any cost savings will be passed on to the town. While this model does come with an initially higher price tag, the Committee believes that the benefits outweigh this, and that the additional cost can potentially be made back. The MSBA offers an additional percentage point reimbursement when towns use this model. Additionally, according to Main, industry-wide it is thought that this model enables projects to “get a better quality contractor.” Member Mick reiterated this point, additionally noting that better firms have been known to not bid on projects not using the Construction Management at Risk model. The Elementary School Building Committee had also voted to support using this model.
Dr. Phelan presented the draft articles for Annual Town Meeting, with the Committee deciding to submit five articles. The School Committee will be asking for their operational budget, for upgrades to the Middle School wiring, for upgrades to the Middle School auditorium sound system, and for interior door security and hardware at the Middle School. During a recent crisis drill at the school, administrators discovered that some doors did not lock, while other doors could not be shut at all; for safety reasons the doors must be repaired, the Committee decided. The domestic water heater at Hopkins School is currently leaking and needs repairs; the Committee decided to take money out of revolving accounts and fix the problem now, instead of waiting for passage of a capital improvement article at Town Meeting.
The Committee also voted to keep a placeholder for the new elementary school on the docket. While the school will come up for vote during a Special Town Meeting and subsequent ballot in March, the Committee is aware that the measure might not pass. In such an event, according to MSBA documents, “a failed local vote likely will result in the school district being required to submit a new Statement of Interest.” In other words, Hopkinton would likely have to get back in line and start all over again with another feasibility study phase. The funds earmarked by the MSBA for Hopkinton, in anticipation of awarding them based on a “yes” vote, would be released, becoming available for other projects in other towns. However, the documents also suggest that it is possible for a town to have a second chance at passing their project, and it is in case of just such a scenario that the Committee voted to put the project into an article. Phelan carefully pointed out that there is no guarantee that there would be a second chance granted by the MSBA, and also noted that even if granted, this would result in construction delays, with costs likely to be higher.
Superintendent Phelan and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mary Colombo presented an update on the strategic plan. Both had praise for Hopkinton’s achievements in areas such as a guaranteed and viable curriculum, and virtual learning opportunities for students. “We’re known for this,” said Colombo, adding that “We made a tremendous amount of progress.” The international students attending the High School have paid in over $94,000, and the plan is to have that amount increase next year. Phelan said that the budget inflow helps the foreign language program in the district, and that the students enrich the cultural diversity of the school. Areas for improvement include Full Day Kindergarten; while the goal is to offer a full day program to every family that requests it, the district is having to take a step backwards on this path, planning to offer only 2 full day classrooms in FY12 as noted above. However, said Phelan, the new Fruit Street elementary school has been designed to provide enough space to accommodate all families seeking a full day program. The entire strategic plan update will be available on the school website.
Finally, the Committee voted to sign a new 3 year lease on the administrative office space at 89 Hayden Rowe Street. Committee Members Bertschmann and Mick expressed appreciation for the landlord’s willingness to negotiate on the price. Director of Finance Ralph Dumas had put the office space out to bid, but the only other bid received was for an inconvenient location on South Street that would have required the lease of double the space required.
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