The Whitman-Hanson School Committee will hear the district’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal at its Feb. 24 meeting.
“We’re going to be focused on regression and making sure we can implement services for kids next year so they can make sure that, if they have regressed, they can catch up,” Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak said. “We are going to present a budget, and let you marinate on the budget.”
Follow up meetings will then focus on getting more and more information out to the community as to where those dollars have gone.
Implementation of major new programs will not be considered, rather the district is looking to determine a benchmark of where students are academically when they return to school.
Szymaniak reminded the committee that enrollment is down and 90 students are now being home-schooled. He wants to determine the thought process of how some of those students might return to school.
Director of Business and Finance John Tuffy reported to the School Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 13, that there is some good revenue news in the offing.
Finalized state figures indicate that accounts in Chapter 70 aid and transportation and interest earnings can be bolstered with money out of money out of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Grant.
“The good news is we’re halfway through the year and we don’t have to cut budgets because of deficits in our original revenue projections,” Tuffy said. “The other good news has to do with the CARES Act.”
The funds were intended to run out Dec. 30 if delivery of items or beneficial use of services as well as an invoice, reimbursement would not be possible.
But, the original CARES Act running through Plymouth County is now running until next December, as it has been extended.
The committee also reviewed and accepted revisions to the strategic plan pertaining to outcomes for this year, which could change with a return to school on what can feasibly done in that time, returning to a calendar approach next year.
“This is an important document because it is the roadmap to where our district is going, and it’s certainly going to lead into our budget, which is important because … essentially our budget should align with our strategic plan,” said Committee member Dawn Byers.
She questioned the rationale for removing universal full-day kindergarten from the plan.
Assistant Superintendent George Ferro said that change was largely due to COVID-19.
“What we’re trying to say is, ‘What is tangible, what is doable, what can we move forward on?’” Ferro said. “It’s still in the plan, it’s not in the outcome.”
Byers and member David Forth made a motion to table a vote until the kindergarten plan could be included, after Ferro explained it had simply been unintentionally omitted during document formatting. Byers’ motion was changed to one amending the strategic plan to include universal full-day kindergarten.
Szymaniak also said he felt the need to comment on the Capitol insurrection that was “all over the news” in the week between Jan. 6 and the School Committee meeting.
“I know some of my colleagues have made public statements about what happened in Washington,” he said. “What we did as a school community, is I messaged to [the committee] and administrators what the recommendations were from the National Association of School Psychologists.”
W-H School Phsychologist Wendy Price, on a sabbatical this year, is president of the association.
Teachers tried to remain apolitical, but to talk to students and answer those who had questions.
“Our teachers took this as an opportunity to have discussions with their kids, nonthreatening discussions, to really see where they were at,” Szymaniak said. “We try to provide parents with information to have discussions with their kids — politics aside.”
Vice Chairman Christopher Scriven read a prepared statement in which he argued the committee to address the situation, as it is a democratically elected group charged with overseeing public education in the community.
“As we are all aware, public education is one of the fundamental institutions of our democratic society which requires factual information to function effectively,” Scriven said. “Given that misinformation has been employed in a violent attempt to undermine our democratic process, I believe it is our responsibility to ensure our district’s response is, and has been, factual and clear.”
He said it was an opportunity to present a core aspect of the mission statement to educate students with facts and support teachers in doing so, and that the committee condemn anyone found to have participated in the “seditious and treasonous actions against our democracy, leading up to and on that fateful day.”
The committee unanimously approved of that motion.
Member Hillary Kniffen thanked Scriven for the statement as an educator who teaches sophomores and juniors in another school district.
“Thursday [Jan. 7] was a really challenging day for exactly points Chris spoke to,” she said. “I think that a lot of educators are walking on eggshells, for lack of a better term. … We’re not supposed to teach them how to think, we’re supposed to teach them to think.”
Member Fred Small replied he did not think anyone could have said that better, that teachers’ role is to teach critical thinking skills without telling students how to think about an issue.
“Violence in any way shape or form, such as what we all witnessed … I don’t think has any place in our democracy at this time,” he said. “It was horrible.”
Member Chris Howard addressed parents and others watching the meeting.
“I cringe when we’re leaving it up to educators to have some of these conversations,” he said. “So, if you are listening, I think when things like this happen, it’s an opportunity to grab your kids [and] have a conversation.”
Byers added that, because it may not be the last situation like it, asked if there were professional development programs to support teachers.
Ferro said a Simple K-12 professional development program scheduled Feb. 3 will help weave in inclusion and diversity.
Szymaniak said, in light of situations he has encountered, asked the committee to remember, they are a district-wide committee and not a school-based committee, so specific curriculum requests should be made through the chairman.
He also reminded members who wish to attend a PTO or School Council meeting do so as a parent and not a School Committee member so they do not end up intimidating people or leaving the impression they are speaking as a committee member.