School Committee Seeks 6.7% Budget Increase

By Kate Anslinger

Prior to the regular School Committee meeting, Winthrop residents had a chance to express their opinions about budget allocations, and there were a number of opinions offered.

The School Committee is asking for $19,412,701 for the operating budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1. This is a 6.7 percent increase from what they were allotted last year.

Ultimately the final budget decision is up to the Town Council. There are also mandated expenditures that need to be taken into consideration, such as ELL (English Language Learners) Services, out of district tuitions and transportation. The school budget makes up for 49.2 percent of the $46.7 million total town budget. Out of the $19,412,701 requested for the 2017-2018 school year, $14,743,509 will be dedicated to salaries.

“We are all on the same page,” said Town Council President Robert Driscoll Jr. “The council is going to work with the School Committee and we will do the best thing we can for the schools.”

“We have fixed costs coming into the school year, which takes up areas we wouldn’t want to reduce,” said Superintendent of Schools John Macero, as he shared his experience in past budget requests. Macero suggested that the committee request a range of reductions and additions. His main goal is to make sure that the services and programs don’t get cut because there are certain services that are mandated by the IEP (Individualized Educational Program) and programming that is necessary to prepare the students.

“Our programs enable students to become 21st century students, prepared to go to college,” Macero said.

If the committee decides to go with Option E, they anticipate the following fixed costs: a 4 percent staff increase designed to accommodate increased enrollment; $500,000 Special Education increase; and $150,000 utilities increase.

The reductions will include two administrators, three teachers, and nine ESP’s (Educational Support Personnel). However, the committee is presenting early retirement incentives in hopes of freeing up some money. The goal would be to offer an incentive to those who are seasoned teachers approaching retirement. If one seasoned teacher opts for early retirement, it could open up the possibility to hire two less experienced teachers coming in at lower salaries, which could ultimately help with keeping the class sizes smaller.

Another thing that the committee urges residents to keep in mind is that Winthrop has to honor an IEP for a student who moves into the Town, but is “out of district” in a specialized setting. This leads to unforeseen costs that ripple from one year to the next.

“The goal is that Winthrop will eventually have therapeutic classrooms in all of the schools in the district to manage the students that we currently have while also preparing for the future, where the incidence of students with disabilities or challenges is only expected to rise,” said School Committee Chair Dawn Sullivan, who admits that it will be a major cost saver in years to come.

Parents and teachers who came out to express their opinions shared views on the importance of keeping ESP’s in the classroom.

“As a kindergarten teacher, I also teach the children how to use the sink and tie their shoes,” said kindergarten teacher, Alisa Turner. “We teach them how to go to school on top of the academic skills. When my ESP is at lunch that is when something happens. Having fewer adults in the classroom impacts the social emotional well being of the children, but it’s also a safety issue. They cannot go anywhere by themselves when they are five (years old) and we need the help of the ESP’s.”

Option E also suggests that the Occupational Therapy program undergoes a restructuring, which will omit the COTAs (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants) and add two more OTRs (Occupational Therapists), increasing from two to four therapists. This decision was made based on the number of evaluations that are received as well as the OTRs ability to evaluate, write objectives, and progress reports for students as well as conduct treatment.

While COTAs are valuable, they do not have the ability to evaluate and write objectives. The new restructuring allows for proper resource management while maintaining valuable and skilled therapy that the students require. All OTR staff will be hired within the district versus being outsourced.

School Committee Chair Dawn Sullivan and Director of Pupil Personnel Jennifer O’Connell met to brainstorm ways that would be in the best interest of the students, while also providing sensible budget adjustments.

The Town Council will present the final budget at the end of April.

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