WILMINGTON — Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand’s report for the School Committee at their meeting last Wednesday night covered CIT days, MSBA, and the middle school task force.
Assistant Superintendent Christine Elliott described the workshops covered in the most recent WPS CIT day, including increasing cognitive rigor and engagement in remote and social distancing classrooms and trauma-sensitive teaching.
The budget hearing interrupted the regular meeting for Brand to give a 20,000 foot view of next year’s proposed budget. It was made with projected enrollment of over 3,100 students and a number of grants and contributions expected. He said that the plan includes fulfilling legal obligations, professional staffing guidelines, and contractual commitments.
One featured budget item is the $75,000 to be set aside for items that pertain to the strategic plan.
“We want to resume most of it and return to those important priorities that were formed by the community,” Brand said. He shared some capital items that will be fulfilled next year per the 5-year plan. They’re also expecting to need to increase the salary budget by 2.99 percent and the non-salary budget by .7 percent. This translates into a 2.5 percent budget increase overall.
The budget still needs to be reviewed by the Finance Committee on March 4 before it goes to Town Meeting on May 1 for final approval.
Resuming the regular meeting, the committee heard two public comments from residents advocating for students to return to school in-person five days a week. Both residents asked the committee to reach out to them for collaboration with ideas going forward while also pointing out that students have fallen far behind from where they should be.
Brand picked up his report for an update on the Massachusetts School Building Authority application, where applications for six schools were submitted with a preference of the Wildwood School. He said that Wilmington is being seriously considered for selection, but the MSBA’s decision is far from finalized.
He added that regardless of the final decision, he still wants to look for an interim solution for that school.
“The building continues to be updated and issues are attended to by the town,” he continued.
He referred to these efforts as a “Band-Aid” solution.
Brand shared that many volunteers were selected to participate on the Middle School Task Force or steering committee to conduct a full programmatic review.
“If anyone volunteered but wasn’t selected, you’ll still be able to participate,” he said. “The work of this group will come back to the committee and the community.”
The group will be made up of students, parents, and staff from each grade at the middle school level and younger.
The last part of his report concerned returning to school in-person full time. Brand reported that he wants the district to think about returning more students to in-person learning with vaccinations for educators coming soon. In a later item he suggested the Board of Health could be ready to partner with the school district to vaccinate teachers as early as April.
Part of the problem, however, is that there are limitations to follow despite the realities of guidance from the CDC or DPH. One such example is that they don’t have enough buses to get all students to school every day due to capacity restraints and social distancing.
“I’ll say as a parent, a teacher, and a School Committee member, I can’t think of anything better than moving back to in-person instruction,” said Jay Samaha.
David Ragsdale asked if this would also be considered for this spring at the same time as for next fall, and Brand replied that these are two facets of one discussion to him. The committee suggested that they use organizations that are already in place to assess parent preference for things like only three foot distancing and transportation.
The board approved the WHS program of studies update by Principal Linda Peters and salary changes for the fiscal year 2021 financial report from Paul Ruggerio. Peters said that a formal process has been added for credit recovery, US History-10 has been changed to US History from a global perspective, and a new advanced music theory course will be offered. Ruggerio said that the budget will end the year in a positive spot.
The final item of the evening pertained to the resignation of School Committee member Steve Bjork, who wasn’t present at the meeting but wrote in his resignation effective immediately. His reason for leaving was that he couldn’t fulfill all of his responsibilities effectively.
Jenn Bryson mentioned that she’s communicated this already to the Board of Selectmen so that interested residents may write a letter to Chairman Jonathan Eaton and the two groups can make a meeting and vote upon Bjork’s replacement.
Jo Newhouse suggested that instead of appointing someone, it would be fairer to just let the town vote and put a two-year seat on the ballot for town election. She imagined that the replacement would only get to serve for a few meetings before the election.
She also mentioned another town that had reached out to the MASC and learned that they weren’t legally required to fill the vacant seat, so they just left a seat open for five meetings until the election.
“We don’t want to just assume people will [pull papers] and not move on this process and find ourselves in a position where we haven’t filled that seat,” returned Bryson.
Ragsdale said, “Our only role is this appointment process that we’ve discussed. Anything that has to do with what’s on the ballot has nothing to do with us — that’s the role of the town and the Town Clerk.”
Bryson added that she’d report back with dates to meet with the Board of Selectmen and keep everyone informed about whether they’d add a two year seat to the ballot this year. Their next meeting will be on Wednesday Feb. 24 at 7 p.m.