TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury School Committee met last Wednesday for their first meeting of 2021. The meeting was held via Webex per the governor’s emergency order.
Business Manager Dave Libby presented the first budget workshop for FY22. He reviewed the four sections of the budget: salary, operating, capital outlay, and fixed costs, which are managed by the town. He also focused on the areas of personnel, technology, and building improvements.
Libby explained that the state of future collective bargaining agreements are unknown and will likely shift with changing pandemic conditions; many coronavirus-related leaves of absence and one year hires will expire at the end of the fiscal year.
Libby also added that FY22 will be the last year that utilizes the current budget model as the new Pleasant Street elementary school will come online during FY23.
Libby accounted for high technology costs, saying, “everything has to work every day with the number of students who are online learning, so network security became a very important issue for us,” and described the district’s comprehensive replacement plan for lost and damaged devices.
Building improvements in the upcoming fiscal year will focus on the Dewing and Heath Brook schools, as well as safety upgrades in all buildings and maker spaces for STEM education.
In reviewing the impact of COVID-19 on the budget, Libby explained that costs for custodial and nursing overtime, cleaning supplies, and HVAC totaled $605,866.31. The highest costs came from cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment in an amount exceeding $178,000.
Libby noted that salary accounts for 70 percent of the total budget, operating costs make up 28 percent, and capital outlay makes up the last two percent.
A major priority for capital projects is the Ryan School roof, which is “close to the end of its life” and is leaking, said Libby. The district is seeking to implement a roof coating process that was successfully used at the Heath Brook School.
Libby reviewed 56 separate revolving funds, each with a specific purpose, and explained that the funds are closed out when projects are completed and money cannot be transferred between funds.
He also noted that grant funding has been obtained to cover some coronavirus-related expenses. Libby plans to continue discussions with stakeholders to refine the budget before it is voted on at town meeting in May.
Committee members praised Libby for his work.
The committee will host two more budget workshops in February and March.
Returning to their regular meeting, the committee turned its attention to the recipients of the annual John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. The merit-based scholarship is based on 10th grade MCAS scores and provides a tuition credit for up to eight semesters of undergraduate education at a Massachusetts state college or university.
Superintendent Chris Malone praised the 58 seniors: “Congratulations to all these wonderful students,” he said. “We couldn’t be more proud of you and we wish you all the success moving forward. You’re a great representation of Tewksbury Public Schools.”
The committee also recognized Makayla Paige for being named a Boston Herald 2020 All-Scholastic for girls’ cross country. Paige, who is nationally ranked, has been named all-scholastic between the Boston Globe and the Herald 12 times.
“Makayla is the sixth member of the School Committee because she’s been here so many times,” said Malone.
Members praised her for continuing her running despite the coronavirus and cancellation of the indoor track season.
“I”ve never heard a teammate say anything bad about her,” said Athletic Director Ron Drouin.
Members praised Paige for her dedication and accomplishments in her time at TMHS. Paige thanked the committee for their support. She will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Drouin also congratulated Daniela Almeida for being named to the All-State Girls Soccer first team, and thanked Town Manager Richard Montuori and Tewksbury Telemedia staff for their support and effort in streaming games live to spectators, especially with attendance restricted by the governor’s coronavirus orders.
In his superintendent and staff report, Malone thanked families and staff for their help in handling the pandemic. He announced that school nurses were vaccinated as medical personnel during Phase One of the state’s vaccine rollout, and is hoping that teachers will be vaccinated sometime during February and April. Malone also announced a new program for pool testing that the district may adopt through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; pool testing allows for many individuals to be tested in a “pool” or batch with quick results — if the batch tests positive, all individuals in that specific pool are tested again.
Malone reviewed recent enrollment numbers; he expects a decline in enrollment numbers to level off within the next few years. The committee also received an update on the 21st century grant program. The fully remote program is run through the Dewing School and offers afterschool activities to students from pre-kindergarten to second grade Monday through Thursday.
In committee reports, member Jamey Cutelis announced that the new Pleasant Street elementary school is on time and on budget, and the Elementary School Building Committee recently approved a change to concessions to allow for the service of hot and cold food.
Malone said that the old administration building at the Center School is up for discussion at the next ESBC meeting to see if early demolition will have a positive financial or time impact on the project.
Assistant Superintendent Brenda Theriault-Regan reported that teachers were able to use a recent professional development day to carry out department planning.
She also announced several changes to the 2021 MCAS testing standard made by DESE. Students in grades 3-8 will take a shortened test in ELA, math, and science.
Regan reported to the board that the town had been “preliminarily cleared” by the state for meeting the minimum structured learning time requirements (35 synchronous learning hours over 10 days); the district will still undergo continued audits in greater detail.
The next meeting and budget hearing is scheduled for Feb. 10, 2021. Residents wishing to comment may find the call-in number on their screen and on the meeting agenda on the town website. The meeting may be viewed on Comcast channel 22 and Verizon channel 34.