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$83M school budget, transportation fees, ski team approved

The School Committee on Thursday, March 12, approved a budget for fiscal 2021 nearing $83 million and the first increases in transporation fees in a decade.

School Committee logo

School Budget logoThe 7-0 vote supported the $82,997,634 spending plan updated a bit from the plan supported in February. For a summary of the approved budget changes, scroll down to page 17 and following in this document >> 

The measure included $31,826, taken from reserve funds,  to establish for the first time as a varsity sport an Alpine ski team as well as higher fees to bus Bishop and Gibbs students. In a separate motion, the committee voted unanimously to approve a single-child rate to $330 a year, from $270, and a family rate (more than one student) from $450, to $370.

Chief Financial Officer Michael Mason Jr. said the new fees would leave shortfall of $4,000 annually, instead of $11,000.

'Necessary correction'

Kirsi Allison-Ampe, budget subcommittee chair, said the panel believed the recommendation "seemed reasonable" and a "necessary correction," in that fees had not increased in more than 10 years.

Committee member Bill Hayner asked whether the fees would be reviewed annually. Committee Chair Len Kardon noted the intent is to look at the issue every two years.

Skiing logo

During public comment, parent Lynn Klosterman, representing the ski team, said efforts had continued since 2011 to make the sport a varsity offering, but the issue did not get traction until this year.

Immediately after, committee voted unanimously to add alpine skiing as a varsity sport.

Before doing so, member Paul Schlichtman said he is "very happy this is happening now" and is glad to see members of what had been a club sport participating.

Allison-Ampe said the recommendation left her "confused," saying she thought "we'd do a year and review" the matter.

Kardon said an annual review of policies would apply temporarily to all sports.

"I will vote for this," she said, saying the matter needs clarification.

As to the overall fiscal 2021 budget, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie’s proposed additions to the budget involve taking on extra staff to provide adequate support for the larger number of students. This includes hiring a math coach at the elementary school level, a Spanish teacher at the middle school level, an English language learners teacher at the high school level and special-education teachers for all three levels, among other positions.

Bodie also shared plans to hire a new librarian for the district, who will specialize in digital media literacy. This hire is part of the school district’s long-term plan to place a librarian in every school, she said.

Bodie says a swiftly growing student population is the reason behind a 6.34-percent increase in the school budget proposed for fiscal 2021.

Out of the almost $83 million amount, the town of Arlington would contribute $76,030,531, though a large part of that (19 percent of the total budget) will come from state aid, according to Mason.

AHS building project update

AHS project logo

Bodie provided an update about the Arlington High School rebuilding project, which has site work underway. She said that at a March 3 meeting, the building committee discussed a lack of progress as to geothermal wells.

She said a first practice well drilled down 1,000 feet near the Department of Public Works yard, 30 feet into bedrock, turned up what is believed to be coal tar. That is a thick, dark liquid that is a byproduct of the production of coke and coal gas from coal. A coal-gasification plant was once on the site where the DPW yard is.

The issue needs more testing, she said. Another test well is expected to be drilled on the softball field.

She reiterated that the new building will be all-electric, and that engineers have not yet decided about the total number of wells. "The issue is evolving," she said.

Further parking for equipment and workers must be sorted out. She said that temporary parking likely must expand on the practice soccer field, the basketball court near Menotomy Preschool and along Mill Brook Drive, the access way to Mill Street.

The building committee is next scheduled to meet March 24, but, given coronavirus measures, it is unclear whether it will. The design team is preparing to submit 50-percent drawings for the project.

A goodbye

The School Committee said farewell to member Jennifer Susse, who did not seek reelection after serving two terms

Jennifer Susse, 2017

On behalf of the committee, Kardon read in a statement, thanked Susse "for her years of service on the committee. Jennifer has brought an unrelenting focus to community engagement during her time on the committee, helping to strengthen the school liaison program, to launch the committee coffees and to make sure there was appropriate community outreach and engagement on all our major decisions.

"Jennifer also co-chaired the first Build Arlington’s Future campaign and has been a steadfast advocate for enhanced funding for our schools and school buildings. She has helped build bridges all around town to make the Gibbs, AHS, and operating overrides happen. She has been a huge asset to Arlington Public Schools and will be greatly missed."

Susse said that she had a "tremendous group of colleagues .... and learned so much."

According to a long-standing tradition, she was presented with chair.

Other business

In other business, Kardon asked committee members to give notice of their willingness to serve as officers for 2021-2022. Four candidates are seeking three three-year seats in the April 4 election -- incumbents Schlichtman and Hayner plus newcomers Elizabeth R. Exton and Lynette Martyn.

As to reestablishing the legal services review subcommittee, Hayner said that "expenses have gone up," and he is willing to serve, if reelected.

Kardon said athletics fees continue to be discussed, but more work must be done.

Feb. 17, 2020: School administrators propose $82.8M budget for fiscal '21

Jan. 15, 2020: Committee OKs $76M budget share from town, lays out priorities

School budget links >>
Fiscal 2020 school budget >>
Dec. 24, 2019: Budget pleas from middle schools, AHS, union point to modest hopes

This news summary was published Monday, March 16.

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