WILMINGTON — The School Committee meeting last Wednesday night opened with a middle school update. Two WMS students covered recent ongoings at school including Project J51 donations, the upcoming literacy magazine issue, and holiday concerts and spirit days.
One public comment was made in person. Wilmington resident Jeffrey Cohen questioned the effectiveness of mask mandates, claiming that masks aren’t effective against COVID-19. He referenced a study where none of the identified mitigation strategies, between distancing, ventilation, and masking, made any noticeable difference in cases.
The Superintendent’s Report brought updates on DESE, administrative searches and Sean Collier Day.
Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand shared that there had been an uptick in COVID-19 cases in town. He wanted to ensure that vigilance remains in place. He included the current vaccination rates by grade: 1st grade 29 percent, 2nd grade 36 percent, 3rd grade 28 percent, 4th grade 32 percent, 5th grade 33 percent, 6th grade 27 percent, 7th and 8th 40 percent, and high school 77 percent.
They only have measured staff at the middle and high school levels, which are at 80 percent and 77 percent, respectively. Brand said that it’s his hope to have an opportunity to potentially adjust school masking protocols after reaching the identified vaccination rate of 80 percent.
He gave heartfelt thanks to Wilmington High School Principal Linda Peters, who announced she’d be retiring at the end of this school year.
“It’s disheartening to lose a tremendous, long-standing leader,” he said.
However, they’d focus on moving forward with this search and also a search for a new Wildwood School principal. The committee also thanked Peters for all of the work she’d done. Chair Dr. Jenn Bryson said that finding her replacement would be an impossible task.
In response, Peters later shared that she owed Wilmington her gratitude for giving her the opportunity to teach and to lead.
Brand also gave a shoutout to a recent Board of Selectmen vote to designate Jan. 3 as Sean Allen Collier Day, in memory of WHS graduate Sean Collier, who was killed in the line of duty after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
Brand hoped the school system could think about how to support and participate in celebrating that. Bryson specifically thanked Selectman Greg Bendel for putting the motion together.
Brand then delivered the preliminary budget presentation. He stressed that planning was mindful of the challenging circumstances and their lingering impacts on children, staff, and families. While trying to focus on their goals connected to the strategic plan, they identified fixed costs and prioritized funding for obligations, legal mandates, and special education.
Other priorities of the budget included essential programs and services, responding to social-emotional needs, and following the fiscal recommendations of the Walker Report.
Before making any staff changes, he emphasized that they would first identify the appropriate number of sections for class sizes. Projected enrollment he shared for the upcoming year was 2,757 students. He reminded the audience of the contractual requirements for student-teacher ratios per grade — either 1:20 or 1:25 depending.
The proposed salary increases for personnel were 3.43 percent, and non-personnel was 1.8 percent, making the overall change 3.09 percent from last year.
The next steps he mentioned were meeting with Town Manager Jeff Hull on Dec. 17, the recommended budget presentation on Jan. 19, and the public budget hearing on Feb. 16.
One concern that the committee brought up was about projected enrollment, especially with the middle and high school program reviews in mind.
“We don’t know how many students are coming into 9th grade until well after the budget passes,” replied Brand.
He suggested that staffing adjustments from the program reviews be made after trying to repurpose resources according to what’s determined by the review. He also said that he could see a strong desire for increasing course offerings, so they would start by using the resources that they already have.
David Ragsdale asked if the enrollment projection might have been skewed by 2021 enrollment. Assistant Superintendent of Administration and Finance Paul Ruggiero answered that they use the real data. Ragsdale also shared support for considering school choice this year to increase enrollment.
Two areas that Bryson wanted to see more focus on were transportation and performing arts support. In a high point, she noted that out-of-district placements were down.
Jay Samaha asked if the budget increase was usually around the same amount. Ruggiero said that this year was pretty on par with previous years, if not a little lower than usual.
Reporting from the Equity Subcommittee, Samaha mentioned that they had delayed their meeting to try to gather the best information on the equity audit for the committee.
The next School Committee meeting will be on Wednesday, Jan. 12.