HANOVER — The South Shore Tech School Committee held its annual budget hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
The hearing followed the release earlier in the day of Gov. Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2021 budget, as well as the Chapter 70 and minimum local contribution numbers for the budget cycle by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
The budget will be up for certification at its February meeting.
“To this point, we’ve had an initial proposal on fiscal 2021 and now we can look at some other numbers,” said Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey, noting that the information was being sent to member towns on Thursday, Jan. 23 and will be posted on the school website.
The overall budget proposal represented a 4.09-percent increase, and — thanks to non-resident tuition revenue, regional transportation and a modest increase in Chapter 70 state aid — funds sought from member towns would therefore be slightly lower than the current budget of $13,816,873. Hanson’s assessment increases by $132,507 and Whitman’s by $18,468.
Assessments vary based on the funding formula (75 percent) and the number of students in the school (25 percent).
“In general, the towns that saw assessment increases, usually it’s because there’s an increase in students,” Hickey said. “It’s not always guaranteed and the intensity might be different.”
Hanson’s minimum local contribution — the amount the state says towns should be spending to educate students — is $1,135,420 and Whitman’s is $1,623,676. Non-resident tuition, divided proportionally among the SST member towns gives $14,193 to Hanson and $12,027 to Whitman. The towns’ assessments would be even higher without the increased revenue, Hickey said Monday, Jan. 27, noting that the non-resident tuition is traditionally used to offset the next year’s tuition. He also said he is very confident that regional transportation reimbursement, anticipated to be at 70 percent, will be 80 percent this go-round. As labor costs and the fuel and maintenance costs brought with the transition to propane-powered buses, are being pointed to as reasons next year’s transportation costs are calculated as “largely flat,” Hickey said the additional 10 percent of transportation reimbursement could be passed along to the towns.
Capital expenses are up slightly due to the capital improvement plan, while transportation costs are largely flat and the district has eliminated most of its debt, according to Hickey.
Hickey said on Monday, Jan. 27 that DESE is expected to issue guidance to better explain what they are looking for in terms of student opportunity grant paperwork, seeking explanations from each district about how additional Chapter 70 funds are going to be used — from closing achievement gaps to improvements to social-emotional learning and other priorities.
The report, due April 1 and must be completed by all districts in the state, expects districts to reach out to community stakeholders and figure out how it’s going to be spent.
“A lot of districts are not getting a lot of money,” Hickey said. “Our Chapter 70 increase is $30 a student — I think we saw a bump of, it might be $18,000.”
There is a long-form and a short-form document to complete, Hickey said, adding that SST’s “modest amount of money” would likely translate into a short-form document for the district. He said he would be interested in reading the actual paperwork within the next couple of weeks.
In other business, Assistant Principal Sandra Baldner announced the school has achieved its goal of reducing absenteeism by 20 percent.
“It required a lot of work by a lot of people,” she said, describing weekly attendance meetings with guidance counselors, an administrative aide assisting with data management, the school nurse and other administrators. “We’re attacking this with a student-centered approach to target each student intervention based on the student’s reasons for absences. We’re very involved with the families, as well.”
While not meant to be punitive, freshmen absent four times in a row without a valid excuse, receive a detention in a supportive environment with the assistance of a teaching aide. After a fifth unexcused absence a letter is sent home to their family, and in the case of 10 absences, the family is asked in for a 10-day appeal meeting.
“Those meetings are starting to happen now,” Baldner said.
Initial response from families have been generally positive.
A Saturday School initiative for struggling students meets once a month from 8 to 11 a.m. In November, the session had 26 students and last Saturday, there were 27 students working during the session.
“The goal is that we have fewer failures during the school year,” she said. Class failures are also being targeted for a 27-percent reduction this year.
Principal Mark Aubrey reviewed the pilot data program on the breakfast programs, reporting a plateau after an initial improvement. The numbers are still improved even with the plateau considered.
March 4 to 8 is National Breakfast week, when new menu items will be offered free of charge to gauge interest.