HANOVER – South Shore Tech’s goals for the next fiscal year include keeping at-risk students a priority as well as a “self-study” period ahead of the accreditation visit expected in the 2023-24 school year. Accreditation reviews, which occur every 10 years, has been somewhat delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initial bottom line of the district’s zero-based budget is estimated to be $14,944,097 for now – a figure that is about 1.81 percent higher than last year with fewer non-resident students and more from sending towns, which are forecast to make up the entire student body within two years.
The South Shore Tech School Committee on Wednesday, Dec. 15, heard Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey’s annual initial budget presentation for fiscal 2023. The committee will certify the budget in February.
Expanded social-emotional learning initiatives, expanded after-hours workforce development training and enhancing outreach to English language learners will also continue to be a focus, Hickey said. There are also ongoing capital needs in the budget.
“We’re also very interested in seeing how the state will administer the $100 million that was in the most recent ARPA [American Rescue Plan] budget for vocational schools,” Hickey said. “I think we’d be an ideal candidate for some of those funds.”
Hickey also pointed to the schools success in educating students despite the difficulties inherent in remote learning and other changes forced by COVID.
“I think the kids are thriving under some pretty difficult circumstances, thanks to our staff,” he said. A robust co-op program, securing competitive grants, establishment of a bridge program to help students returning to school and a higher number of students participating in sports were also pointed to as successes.
The budget includes $150,000 in stabilization funds being set aside in the debt service line for renovation and construction costs. The five-year lease of propane buses is also entering into the final year of that contract. The MSBA will have an effect on any decision on renovation. The next list of accepted projects has been delayed, Hickey said, but would have to take precedence, if SST is accepted onto the list.
There is also grant-funded money – including ESSER grants – for additional personnel, including a part-time social worker. Hickey is trying to build support for such positions now, so there won’t be a struggle over it when grant funding runs out. ESSER I was for Chromebooks and PPE. ESSER II was for the support personnel. ESSER III, not yet approved, will help through fiscal 2024.
Enrollment has been up for the past year in all eight communities.
Chapter 70 aid won’t be fully known until late January. Both will have an impact on assessment to communities. Minimum assessments will be higher, Hickey said, because there are more resident students.
“It appears as though it’s going to be a safe bet for us to estimate 85 percent, which is the highest reimbursement rate we’ve seen,” Hickey said of transportation reimbursement.
English teacher, and union representative, Toni Bourgea spoke in the public comment section of the meeting about the fact that the union has been working for more than 100 days without a contract, despite negotiations of more than a year.
“We are looking to the settle negotiations,” she said. “The committee has immediately settled a contract with Unit B as well as all the administrators in the building. We are looking for a fair settlement for Unit A.”
She said Hickey is the highest-paid superintendent, per pupil, in the state and is not trying to argue that point.
“He works incredibly hard,” Bourgea said. “But so does everyone else here in this building.” She said the administrative team is among the lowest-paid on the South Shore and teachers are among the lowest-paid among the sending towns as well as the state.
“The school needs to retain and attract the very best educators … our students deserve and need that,” she said. “We need to be financially competitive and that is not what is happening.”
Bourgea said the school has been losing teachers over the past five years – something that was nearly unheard of 20 years ago. The loss of vocational educators puts shops behind in preparing students for the future workplace.
She also pointed to the difficulties and effects of remote teaching during COVID worsen the situation.
“We’ll take all that you’ve said under advisement,” said Committee Chairman Robert Heywood. “We are trying as a member board to make a fair contract and negotiation with it … but we represent eight communities, individually, and we have to answer to them. That puts us in a difficult position and we’re trying to do the best we can for both.”
In other business, Facilities Director Robert Moorhead was recognized on his retirement after 17 years at SST as “one of the best deals we ever made from the town of Hanover,” Committee Chairman Robert Heywood, of Hanover, said. “You’ve saved so much money and done so much for the school, I don’t even know where to begin.”
Moorhead was presented with an electric guitar plaque made by the Metal Fabrication and Welding shop. He plays bass guitar in a band in his private life.
“This is an older school, we know that story, but everybody whose walked into this building for the last 17 years, to a person, has remarked at how great this place looks,” said Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey. “It has become the standard, thanks to Bob Moorhead.”
He thanked the committee for its support over the years.
“There’s noting our department has done without over the years in order to do out job,” Moorhead said. “It’s not up to one person, it’s up to everybody, and you folks have all made that job possible.”