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News

“It’s not sustainable”

Finance Committee Chairman offers a pessimistic view on Superintendent’s proposed School Department budget

Superintendent of Schools Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr. would need a Proposition 2 ½ override to get the funds he’s seeking to run Saugus Public Schools, according to Finance Committee Chairman Kenneth DePatto. “That’s a level of growth that I don’t see as sustainable,” DePatto told DeRuosi at Wednesday night’s Finance Committee meeting during a preliminary review of the School Department’s proposed operating budget for the 2018 fiscal year that begins July 1. “I don’t see how we can come up with these numbers,” DePatto said.

DeRuosi’s $29.6 million spending plan is about $1.2 million more than what Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree provided in the preliminary town operating budget approved by selectmen last month. But DePatto noted the projected increase could surpass $2 million with additional costs.

“There’s only so much money that comes into this town,” DePatto said. “The only way to do it,” he added, would be to increase revenue and “go for an override.”

Accompanied by all five School Committee members and his key administrative staff – including the School Department’s executive director of Finance and Administration, Pola Andrews – DeRuosi spent close to two hours briefing the Finance Committee members and answering their questions.

The Finance Committee is in the early stages of its review of town department budget requests, which began last week. Sometime next month, the committee will make a recommendation to the Annual Town Meeting, which is set to convene on May 1.

School officials can make an argument to Town Meeting members for more funding. But a Finance Committee recommendation usually carries considerable weight during the proceedings of the 50-member body that will vote on what the town spends during the next fiscal year.

Crabtree has recommended a $300,000 increase in the School Department’s current operating budget. A year ago, the School Department requested a $1 million increase in its budget. Crabtree’s proposed spending plan recommended $400,000 more. The School Department wound up getting an additional $100,000 to get half of what it requested for its operating budget.

The School Committee’s Finance Subcommittee has initiated a strategy in hopes of getting additional funds. The subcommittee asked DeRuosi to develop three different budget scenarios, showing what the impact would be if the School Department received the $300,000 increase recommended by Crabtree, a $400,000 increase and a $500,000 increase.

“Really nice presentation”

While DeRuosi didn’t receive a favorable review of the whopping increase he’s seeking in the School Department’s operating budget, he did receive praise from several Finance Committee members on his detailed presentation. “Really nice presentation … You did a great job,” DePatto said.

The superintendent included a printed version of a PowerPoint presentation, similar to what he provided the School Committee earlier this year. Using statistical charts, DeRuosi pinpointed the major “cost centers” of the School Department budget and focused on trends to explain why the School Department budget has been increasing despite the declining enrollment from October 2012 through last October – from 2,850 students down to 2,603 students. “I’ve been gone five years, so I decided to go back five years,” DeRuosi said.

DeRuosi noted that about $6 million of the budget is related to special needs students. “We could be spending up to $5,000 a month for one child,” he said.

Transportation costs for special needs students enrolled in out-of-district programs can be particularly expensive. Costs can balloon if special needs students are switched from a day program to a residential program.

DeRuosi referred to a $514,000 increase in out-of-district costs related to Special Education. “We had two kids moving in during Christmas break that drove our costs up,” the superintendent said.

One of those cases involved a 17-year-old student now in a residential facility who accounted for close to half of that amount ($253,788). The school district might be expected to pay for that student’s education until he is 22.

An increase in English language learners has created “a whole set of needs for the school district,” DeRuosi said.

“You’re looking at 23 different languages spoken in the household … For a town like Saugus, that’s a big transition,” the superintendent said.

The increasing needs of low income families has also taken its toll. “Poverty right now is decimating multiple districts – not just Saugus. … About 40 percent of kids coming to the district require more needs,” DeRuosi said.

Charter schools hurt district

The exodus of students from Saugus Public Schools to charter schools “alarmed me the most,” DeRuosi said. Charter school enrollment increased from 96 students in October of 2012 to 165 students last October. “That’s a red flag for me,” the superintendent said.

“We want to keep these kids in the district,” he said, noting that charter schools have drawn several million dollars away from the school district while they “do not compete with us on a level playing field.”

Charter schools can be selective in the students they accept, while Saugus Public Schools provides education for students at all learning levels – many who would be rejected by charter schools.

“They are our students,” DePatto interjected.

“They are our taxpayers’ children,” he said, adding he would support anyone trying to get an education.

DeRuosi acknowledged that town residents have a choice of where they want to send their children to school. “My job is to build a better product,” he said.

Taking steps to be efficient

DeRuosi said the School Department has become more efficient at eliminating unnecessary costs in several areas since he took charge last July 1. He called the decision by the School Committee to outsource its food services program to a private company, effective next year, “a huge efficiency” that will eliminate the annual loss of about $110,000-a-year.

Previously, student debt averaged $11,000 to $12,000. Currently, it averages $3,000. The School Department is now focusing on how to improve student participation in the food service program, according to DeRuosi.

He said he also has taken steps to eliminate deficits in the Athletic Department budget. But while the School Department makes strides to become more efficient, its efforts are hampered by circumstances beyond the district’s control.

“The state and federal government need to step up and fund public education … It can’t keep falling on the backs of cities and towns,” DeRuosi said.

Without the support, public education is on the brink of collapse, according to DeRuosi. With changing demographics, Saugus has become “a mini-urban” community that “needs some help,” he said.

Getting part-timers off health insurance

Finance Committee Member Steve DiVirgilio broached the issue of reducing the number of part-time School Department employees who qualify for the town’s health insurance. People working 20 hours a week can get health insurance that costs the town $20,000-a-year, DiVirgilio said. By reducing the part-time hours to under 20 hours a week for 50 employees, the town can save a million dollars, DiVirgilio estimated. “It’s not politically popular,” he added.

But DeRuosi insisted that wouldn’t be an issue for him, as it has been his past practice to not allow part-time help to work more than 19.5 hours a week. “If we hire at 19.5 hours, there are no benefits attached … I have always posted at 19.5 [hours],” DeRuosi said.

DiVirgilio wanted to know how many part-time employees work for Saugus Public Schools. DeRuosi wasn’t able to provide that number, but said his staff would provide that and other information requested by the Finance Committee.

 

 

Mid-Year Reflections

Superintendent DeRuosi rates himself as “proficient” 

in meeting six-month goals set by School Committee

Superintendent of Schools Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr. gives himself high marks through the halfway point of his first year in charge of Saugus Public Schools. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done to this date,” DeRuosi told School Committee members last week

“I’m proud of the work I’ve done with you and for you … I think we have captured several issues that have been gnawing at the town … be it through audit. … be it through things that have been brought to my attention,” he said.

DeRuosi gave himself an overall progress rating of “proficient” in all four standards, which encompassed 13 goals set by the School Committee. In addition, he graded himself as “exemplary” for his Mid-Year General Work Ethic Rating, according to a five-page report titled “Mid-Year Reflection.”

School Committee Chairman Jeannie Meredith thanked DeRuosi for his efforts and said she agreed with his self-evaluation. “You met all the challenges that we have put forth to you,” Meredith said.

“To see a superintendent that is so committed to this district and our students … it really is refreshing. You are here when the sun goes up and you are here when the sun goes down,” she said.

“I really want to thank you for giving 100 percent to our district,” she said. “I’d like to see less focus on the negativity,” she added.

DeRuosi’s Mid-Year Reflection actually covered through his eighth month since he began work last July 1. The four standards overlapping the committee’s goals include instructional leadership, management and operation, family and community engagement, and professional culture.

DeRuosi’s report included some advice, particularly for the goal for “Market strategy that accurately portrays student achievement.” “This goal was somewhat confusing to me because I don’t know how you can market student achievement without marketing the whole district,” DeRuosi wrote.

“My approach to leadership is to open up the operations and provide a voice to all stakeholders,” he wrote.

The superintendent noted that the School Committee has made “subtle changes to our SC meeting times to encourage teachers and students to attend and showcase their success … Our SC meetings are focused more on student achievement and presentation from students and teachers highlighting the positive.”

“Here is the best marketing strategy I can suggest at this time: One Town, One Team: Building a Stronger Saugus,” he said, referring to the slogan adopted by his office and the School Committee.

In addressing the School Committee last week, DeRuosi offered some overall advice to the committee: “Shed some of the negativity. Be transparent, face our problems head on. Deal with them.”

In his report, he noted he has been making significant progress in the committee’s goal to create solvency in the food service budget. He noted the unanimous vote by the committee to outsource the food services program. “While this move may provide fiscal solvency in its first year as a district, we will move closer to that goal,” DeRuosi wrote.

“Changes in policy and the focus on collection of individual student lunch debt will also move the district closer to the fiscal solvency it is looking for,” he said.

 

   

Pioneer Charter School of Science II to participate in the College Board’s AP Capstone program

Diploma program focuses on inquiry, research and writing skills crucial for college/career success

Pioneer Charter School of Science II (PCSS II) is one of approximately 1,000 schools worldwide to implement AP Capstone – an innovative diploma program that allows students to develop the skills that matter most for college success: research, collaboration and communication. The program consists of two courses taken in sequence: AP Seminar and AP Research. Developed in direct response to feedback from higher education faculty and college admission officers, AP Capstone complements the in-depth, subject-specific study of other Advanced Placement courses and exams.

Students who earn scores of 3 or higher on AP Seminar and AP Research assessments and on four additional AP Exams of their choosing will earn the AP Capstone Diploma™. This signifies their outstanding academic achievement and attainment of college-level academic and research skills. Students who earn scores of 3 or higher on both AP Seminar and AP Research assessments only (but not on four additional AP Exams) will earn the AP Seminar and Research Certificate™. (The top score on these exams is 5.)

PCSS II will start AP Seminar in the fall of 2017

PCSS II Executive Director Vahit Sevinc said: This innovative program gets a broader, more diverse student population ready for college and beyond. The program gives our teachers more leeway with curriculum choices so their students can access more challenging coursework and sharpen their reading and writing skills. As of today there are only 16 public and private schools in Massachusetts offering the AP Capstone program but no charter public schools. Pioneer Charter School of Science II will be the first and only charter public school in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to offer the AP Capstone program along with 10 other charter public schools nationwide.”

The AP Seminar course, typically taken in 10th or 11th grade, equips students with the ability to look at real-world issues from multiple perspectives. Through a variety of materials – articles to research studies to foundational and philosophical texts – students tackle complex questions; understand and evaluate opposing viewpoints; interpret and synthesize information; and construct, communicate, and defend evidence-based arguments. Education, innovation, sustainability and technology are examples of themes or topics covered in AP Seminar; however, teachers have the flexibility to choose subject content based on student interests, whether local, regional, national or global. By tapping into students’ personal interests, AP Capstone gives students from a wide range of backgrounds an entry point into stimulating coursework more than ever before. Students are assessed through a team project and presentation, an individual project and presentation, and an end-of-course written exam.

In the subsequent AP Research course, students design, plan and conduct a yearlong research-based investigation on a topic of individual interest, documenting their process with a portfolio. Students build on skills developed in the AP Seminar course by learning how to understand research methodology; employ ethical research practices; and collect, analyze and synthesize information to build, present and defend an argument.

“We are proud to offer AP Capstone, which enables students and teachers to focus on topics of their choice in great depth,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president for AP and instruction at the College Board. He added, “This provides terrific opportunities for students to develop the ability to write and present their work effectively, individually and in groups – the very skills college professors want their students to possess.”

By responding to and partnering with the higher education community, the College Board developed AP Capstone so students can practice skills that will serve them well in college and career. Because the program is a result of feedback from education professionals, it is not surprising that several colleges and universities have confirmed their support for the program.

“AP Capstone is a unique program that teaches skills we think are very valuable not only for college but life,” said John Barnhill, assistant vice president for enrollment management at Florida State University. “The ability to analyze, to critically think, to present information is really wonderful, and I think both courses do a great job of preparing the student for the rest of their lives.”

About PCSS

With schools in Everett (PCSS I) and Saugus (PCSS II), Pioneer Charter School of Science offers a rigorous academic curriculum emphasizing math, science and analytical thinking skills balanced by a strong foundation in the humanities. The school offers extended days/hours and career-oriented college preparation. In order to graduate, students must pass five math and five science classes – more than state standards – and must complete 40 hours of community service. The school has a 195-day school calendar, extended days, afterschool tutoring and “voluntary” Saturday classes for students who need extra help.

About the Advanced Placement Program

The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program® (AP®) enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies – with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement or both – while still in high school. Through AP courses in 34 subjects, each culminating in a rigorous exam, students learn to think critically, construct solid arguments and see many sides of an issue – skills that prepare them for college and beyond. Taking AP courses demonstrates to college admission officers that students have sought the most rigorous curriculum available to them, and research indicates that students who score a 3 or higher on an AP Exam typically experience greater academic success in college and are more likely to earn a college degree than non-AP students. Each AP teacher’s syllabus is evaluated and approved by faculty from some of the nation’s leading colleges and universities, and AP Exams are developed and scored by college faculty and experienced AP teachers. Most four-year colleges and universities in the United States grant credit, advanced placement, or both on the basis of successful AP Exam scores – more than 3,800 institutions worldwide annually receive AP scores. In the last decade AP participation and performance rates have nearly doubled. In May 2016, 2.6 million students representing more than 21,000 schools around the world, both public and nonpublic, took over 4.7 million AP Exams.

 

   

Making it comfortable

An engineering firm will review heating and cooling options for the proposed combination High School-Middle School

Saugus High School Principal Michael Hashem and Belmonte Middle School Principal Kerry Robbins both dread certain times of the school year when students just can’t stand the heat.

“We had a girls tournament basketball game when it was up to 100 degrees in the gym,” Hashem said this week during a subcommittee meeting of the town panel involved with the planning of the proposed combination High School-Middle School.

Robbins shared her own horror story about a school building that gets too hot.

“The third floor is at least 120 degrees in May. It’s horrible,” she said.

Dominick B. Puniello, a principal of the engineering consultants hired to work with the High School Building Committee, plans to look at several different systems and study their cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

Hashem said some of the options that Puniello briefed the subcommittee on this week were too complicated and technical for him to understand.

“As long as there’s a comfortable learning environment throughout the year,” Hashem said he really didn’t have a preference.

Partial air conditioning for parts of the school will be one of the options studied.

The costs of the various options could range from $50,000 to $100,000, according to Puniello.

“We’re going to put together the cost estimates for all of the options,” Puniello said in an interview Monday.

“But the one that might cost more may be better because it’s more energy efficient. And if it’s saving a lot of energy, at the end of 30 years, it may save you more money,” he said.

   

Chili Chowder Challenge in Melrose to benefit veterans on March 18

Come enjoy what has become a popular event in our community – the Chili Chowder Challenge IV.

This event will take place on Saturday, March 18 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Norman Prince V.F.W. Post #1506, which is located at 428 Main St. in Melrose.

With a donation of $10.00 per person, you will enjoy different chili recipes, chowders, mac ‘n’ cheese, and maybe a surprise or two! Some eateries will be there with a favorite of theirs, many local groups and organizations, perhaps a local politician or two, and a group of young people from the middle/high school.

Come experience an enjoyable couple of hours with good food, lots of socializing and camaraderie, while also supporting a very worthwhile cause. This is a special sort of FUNdraiser benefiting local Desert Storm veterans who will make up this year’s trip to Washington, D.C.

Mark your calendars and come down to the Prince VFW Post on Saturday, March18 and experience a great time for a great cause!

   

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