An early and incomplete account shows that Arlington public school enrollment has increased, and the administration is responding with a placeholder budget item for two modular classrooms.
At the first School Committee meeting for 2019-20, held Thursday, Sept. 12, members also established a committee to design the process to search for a new superintendent.
As to enrollment, Superintendent Kathy Bodie announced that the figures for the first day of school revealed a total of 5,989 students, an increase of 146 students from last year. The official count for enrollment will take place Oct. 1 and be verified by the state later in November. See the details in this chart >>
Most of the increases in school enrollment were in the elementary school classes. Bodie reported that all classes in the high school totaled under 400, in the middle schools more than 400 and all but one elementary school totaled more than 500, with the first grade totaling close to 600.
Bodie: 'Big changes'
“These are big changes,” Bodie commented. She said the school department, for the report on the 2019-20 school year, has been “not as successful at balancing classes” and had to hire additional teaching assistants for “a couple of large classes.”
Committee member Bill Hayner asked whether “there was any relief” for the “very crowded” fourth grade at the Hardy Elementary School. He answering his own question, responding that the school had just added six classrooms, which were full, and admitted he didn’t know the solution.
Member Jane Morgan reported that the enrollment chart by grade was “not useful” to her, because it did not count elementary special-education students in structured learning classes in the Brackett, Stratton and Dallin.
Bodie explained that although the students were in the classrooms for much of the day, the teacher of record was not the classroom teacher, so they were not counted as being a member of the class. She promised to produce a more accurate chart soon.
Member Kirsi Allison-Ampe also wanted the report to include the full number in the classroom, as parents were confused.
Chief financial officer Michael Mason, in his financial report given later in the evening, announced he was going to put a placeholder for two modular classrooms for the Bishop in his report to the Capital Planning Committee as a “pro-active” measure.
Bodie has forecast an increase in enrollment at the Bishop, which would require at least one new classroom, unless they used the art or music rooms. This generated among the committee members requests for a wider discussion about enrollment and a space analysis with, perhaps, a reworking of the buffer zones.
While 146 additional students is a larger number than was predicted in the five-year School Committee financial plan, Chair Len Kardon told YourArlington that the growth factor in the budget is determined by the actual number of the increase, not the estimated one.
He wrote: "The number predicted in the budget documents was growth of 133 students, so 146 is not that far off. Please note that our funding next year is adjusted for the number of students we actually grow by. So if 145 ends up being the number after enrollment is certified by the state, our FY2021 budget will be increased by about $86,000 (that is the 12 extra students ... times the enrollment growth factor of $7,166)."
Staff hiring: 3 administrators, 71 teachers
Rob Spiegel, human-resources director, had a busy summer hiring for new and replacement positions in the school district. He reported hiring three new administers, director of science for K-12, a Bishop assistant principal and an athletics director. Seventy-one new teachers, team chairs and specialists joined the district this fall, with 20 of them assuming new positions (some are partial full-time equivalents). Fifty-one of them replaced teachers who retired, resigned, moved to another position or are on leave.
Committee members asked why teachers had left. Spiegel enumerated four reasons most frequently mentioned: moving away from area, commuting time, professional move within education that might include better salaries and professional move outside of education.
Hayner asked out how many may have been asked to leave, but Spiegel would not divulge that information. He did inform the committee the district does have an evaluation system and works with the union.
Kardon noted that there seemed to be a large group within special education who left. He asked Spiegel to collect data on the special-education employees and reasons that they left. He would like these data before the budget process begins, to see whether additional training or higher compensation would help retain special-education staff.
Spiegel added to his report that many of the new-teacher hires have been already working in the Arlington school system as teaching assistants or substitutes. He also said that after-school programs have expanded at the Peirce school, and some vacancies for staff in these programs remain.
Human Rights Commission appointee
Chris DiMeo appeared before the committee as the leading applicant for membership to the Human Rights Commission as the committee appointee. He cited his lifelong activities in the service of human rights and his personal background as a member of a same-sex marriage with an adopted African-American child.
The committee unanimously voted to approve him and later in the meeting to support the reappointment of Christine Carney, Sharon Grossman and Nick Milton to the Human Rights Commission and Anna Watson to the Rainbow Coalition.
In advance of the actual search for a new superintendent -- Bodie is retiring in two years -- members unanimously voted to approve a committee to design the process for the search. This committee would write a request for proposals for a consultant to guide the search and decide on ways to facilitate community input.
Hayner asked for an early date to report back to the School Committee. It was decided that the report would be submitted in March.
Member Paul Schlichtman was voted chair of the committee, and Jennifer Susse and Kirsi Allison-Ampe as members of the committee.
In other business, the committee heard the monthly financial report from CFO Mason, the superintendent’s report about the new high school and the summer professional-development report by Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr.
The committee also unanimously voted to appoint Bodie as a voting member of the EDCO Collaborative Board.
No executive session was held, and the meeting adjourned at 9:30 p.m.
This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Jo Anne Preston was published Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019.
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