School Committee Delays Vote on Facility Additions
Committee will continue review of possible plans and budgetary constraints before coming a decision.
School Committee members delayed a vote Monday night that would expand facilities at some of the district's schools including F.A. Day Middle School.
At the start of the meeting, Committee Chairwoman Claire Sokoloff announced that the committee needed more time to discuss the potential reconfigurations and build-outs at the school.
Sokoloff said the group still needs to look into the different expansion possibilities and how they will affect learning and teaching.
"We want to get it right," Sokoloff said.
A vote, Sokoloff said, will take place at the committee's next meeting on Nov. 8.
During the meeting, committee members and the community continued to work through current and future issues surrounding the elementary and middle schools burgeoning enrollment, lack of space as well as system-wide building and infrastructure maintenance.
In relation to the potential expansion, the committee agreed that it will remain focused on how to maintain a high quality of education in the face of looming budget deficits.
Last week, the committee held a special meeting to discuss facility options including construction at F.A. Day Middle School. The department has initiated the process due to aging facilities and increased enrollment in the district.
F.A. Day Middle School Principal Brian Turner, reiterated the idea that "team size is first and foremost."
Turner expressed concern that program changes and staff additions that will be implemented as a result of increased enrollment are not figured into the budget.
Some committee members underlined the importance of not only fixing the space strain right now, but also to remember it as a long-term investment.
"We can't be penny-wise and pound-foolish," said member Kurt Kusiak.
Several residents present at the meeting also requested the committee consider the physical classroom needs of special education students when deciding on how to expand the schools.
But Day Middle School is not the only school on the minds of committee members in terms of space. Zervas, Countryside, Burr, Mason-Rice and Horace Man Elementary Schools are facing significant increases in enrollment and therefore, a significant lack of space.
Member Geoffrey Epstein underlined the space needs in the elementary schools, citing the lack of computer labs and dwindling classroom options.
Draft of student placement policy reviewed
Newton parents continued to voice their concerns with a draft of a new placement policy at an hour-long public hearing held prior to the start of the official meeting.
Parents were worried about too much reliance on team size in determining where their child would be placed. Others expressed the problems around students becoming upset if they are separated from their friends.
At the regular meeting, Chief Administrator Officer, Sandy Guryan, underlined that the current policy is a draft and work-in-progress. Specific feedback from the community is "extremely helpful" and will allow them to finalize it, Guryan said.
Bleak budget forecast
Vice Chairwoman Reenie Murphy reminded her fellow committee and community members that Newton could face an $8 million deficit in fiscal 2011.
Up to half of the city's budget goes to the School Department, Murphy said, meaning schools may have to deal with a $4 million deficit.
As some committee members mentioned last week, Murphy questioned what the "trade offs" would be if the district elected to spend money on facility expansion.
Superintendent David Fleishman broke down the school budget into four categories: class size, educational programs, infrastructure for educational supports and building infrastructure, which includes maintenance. He said that class size and educational programs could be trade-offs.
Fleishman stressed that educational goals are important for the future and that the committee's focus should not be solely on the potential project finances.