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As the Budget Season Begins….

Discussion of Budget Goals FY 2016

by Dr. Richard Canfield, Superintendent of Schools

Text of Opening Statement to Board of Selectmen; Meeting Purpose – To Receive Guidance from the Selectmen

I extend heartfelt thanks to the taxpayers of Sandwich for supporting the education of the children and youth of our community and in particular, the Sandwich Public Schools.  As I enter my 4th year in Sandwich, I recall my first week  when Bud Dunham was kind enough to allow me to use the stage at town hall as a temporary office.  It was June and my contract would not officially begin until July 1, 2011. My entry plan consisted of meetings with various stakeholders, including town officials, some who are still active members of the Board of Selectmen, School Committee, and the Finance Committee.

The purpose of my entry plan was to gain an understanding of the assets and challenges facing the district, from the perspective of these stakeholders.   We discussed a variety of challenges, but there were two big challenges that were repeated throughout my week-long  meetings.

  1. The gap between state aid and tuition assessments, and
  2. The aging of the Wing School building and a lack of funding for a major renovation or tear-down and rebuild, especially in light of a steady decline in enrollment.

The 2011-2012 budget, that I inherited was constructed by my predecessor.  That fall, in preparation for my first budget of 2012-2013, I presented the Superintendent’s 20/20 Vision for the Sandwich Schools that would drive district and school goals as the district sought to address its challenges.

The 20/20 Vision document continues to reflect  the best research on 21st Century  teaching and learning, and America’s workforce needs in an increasingly diverse global economy.  The curricular and program improvements continue to be a strategic component  to address the out-migration of students that is reflected in the ballooning tuition assessment line on the cherry sheet.  In a sense, keep the kids in town and keep the money in town to address Sandwich needs.

Our plan was confirmed through the surveying of Sandwich parents, both those who remained in the district, and those who chose an alternative for their child’s schooling. Simply stated, parents will seek quality education for their children.   The district respects the rights of parents to choose the schooling option they believe is best for their children.  The district wants to ensure that the Sandwich Public Schools remain a viable and very competitive option for its families.

So much has been accomplished, and many successes are highlighted in ongoing updates reported in Sandwich Learns Together, the district’s new online magazine.   Now, the district needs to sustain program gains, and address any program gaps that developed  through the unintended consequences of budget limitations, especially as the district is in the final phase of reorganization.

District decisions and the pathway to the future are also driven by the imminent loss of the Henry T. Wing School, and here too there is a relationship to the 20/20 Vision.  The 20/20 Vision included enrollment projections prepared by the New England School Development Corporation.  As the number of classrooms in the 4 buildings remained the constant , the slope of the declining enrollment variable would eventually intersect with the number of classrooms available in the 3 remaining school buildings.  Additionally, when duplicate or triplicate services exist by offering equitable programming in three K-8 or K-6 locations, those services are more costly.

As appealing as the change-year 2020-2021 was to those who would be tasked with leading the change, it soon became clear that the Wing building was setting its own schedule.  Ongoing issues with mechanical systems, and water leaks in ceilings and walls are some of the more obvious issues.

The declining enrollment, and the availability of the A-Wing at the high school provided an opportunity to move grades 7 & 8 into that facility as a school-within -a-school.  The incentive for Sandwich families to accept this Phase 1 change, and to remain with the school district, was to provide an age appropriate, secure middle school facility under the high school roof, and to compensate the change with enhanced opportunities that reflect the best of 21st Century teaching and learning.  With the unification of grades 7 & 8 from 3 school locations into 1, the district is using resources  more efficiently, thus allowing the program enhancements and opportunities in what is designed as a 6-year, grade 7-12 unified program.

From the beginning, the reorganization or resizing of the district to better align budgeting needs with current enrollment was planned to occur in two phases.  When completed, the town will see the budget trimmed to meet today’s enrollment, while causing no harm to students.  While families and employees would have preferred to move more slowly, the aging Wing school and its issues continue to set the pace as other town needs preclude any investment in capital repairs for the Wing building to remain a school.

Having voted to not use the Wing building as a school beginning in 2015-2016, this past spring the School Committee voted to reorganize the district using Forestdale and Oak Ridge schools as PreK-2 and a 3-6 schools respectively as Phase 2 moves toward completion.  This configuration will have a unifying effect, and through efficiencies it too,  will allow the community to provide two excellent school programs for its youngest children.

Budgets are more than just numbers that represent projected spending amounts.  A budget is also a value statement as it defines what the community is willing to fund.  This is determined through a vetting process involving school administration and staff, town officials, and ultimately the citizens who vote at Town Meeting.

So what does the Superintendent’s Recommended Budget propose to fund?

  1. The Superintendent’s Recommended Budget funds the operating budget for Phase 2 with movement of over 2,000 children and adults among some 365,000 square feet of facilities. This is a complex and ambitious endeavor, but with the help of parents, staff, administration and community members, the reorganization planning is moving ahead.   Sandwich school children will  leave the Wing building behind and build a future in two buildings that must accommodate children in an elementary school model.  The PreK-2 and 3-6 configuration is less costly than having  3 or 2 PreK-6 schools, but it does mean moving not only the current Wing students, but also the K-1 students from Oak Ridge to Forestdale, and the Forestdale 3-5 students to Oak Ridge.   The buildings were designed for both elementary and middle school use, serving students between the ages of 5-14,  so some modifications are needed to address safety and program needs.  Additionally, Forestdale will receive children from the Integrated Pre-School and the Spinnaker program involving 3 to 5 year olds.
  2. The proposed budget supports Full-day Kindergarten to meet the developmental needs of children, and to address more rigorous kindergarten academic standards. The cost may be covered through a combination of sources including grants, town budget and fees charged to parents.  Currently many of our parents pay for extended-day programs.
  3.  This budget also supports the Selectmen’s desire for the school district to provide property management services for the Wing building through a Memorandum of Agreement to be developed and presented to the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee. Why? The district has the manpower, and the essential knowledge and experience in caring for this complex facility.   The district will do its best to ensure that the Wing building does not degrade further or become an eyesore within the historic village.
  4. This budget supports the PreK-12 STEM initiative for both the “trickle-down” program for PreK-6 and the “splash-up” 9-12 program changes that will best serve every student in the Sandwich Schools.  The splash up planning ensures that students moving from the Academy into the high school will receive an excellent education that is commensurate with the quality standards established in the STEM Academy program design.  For Sandwich to reduce the costly out-migration that is reflected in those ballooning state tuition assessments, then patience will be required to stick with the game plan.
  5. Sandwich High School is recognized as an excellent school, but as changes in global education place new demands on America’s schools, Sandwich must adjust to reflect changes in the global marketplace.  This budget supports the need to address the recommendations contained in the recent (2014) accreditation report of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
  6. The budget supports professional development, including ongoing standards-based curriculum work, and accountability requirements under the new Massachusetts Educator Evaluation system, with increased demands for classroom observations, district determined measures of student performance, and standards-based reporting aligned to standards-based curricula.
  7. The budget supports K-12 technology that is appropriate to the age of the user from kindergarten through grade 12. It reflects what our digital age students will use in school, work and within their homes.  The investment in technology will also prepare students for the inevitable introduction of computerized testing, by all indications in the spring of 2016.  We need to ensure that computerized testing measures and informs us about student learning in literacy, numeracy and inquiry, as opposed to being a test of keyboarding skills.  It means that computers need to be tools that students interact with on a regular basis, and not just on test day.
  8. The budget supports our full range of learners through appropriately designed enrichment and project-based learning; and it supports all students needing intervention services…including social and emotional support, and those requiring federally mandated special education services. 
  9. The budget supports programs that the community has come to value, including our theater programs, art, music, community service, clubs and athletics. 
  10. The budget will also need to support outcomes of collective bargaining. Additionally, the district is at the end of a 4-year transportation contract, and will be going out to bid on a new contract.

It should be clear that we are not out of the Wing until the families, their children and the faculty are properly housed at Forestdale and the Oak Ridge schools.  Moving costs and building modifications to support the safety and program needs of students is separate from the operating budget, and is related to the Memorandum of Understanding for the district to provide support for the Wing building until such time as a plan transition plan between the schools and the town is approved.

So, where do we go from here?  Over the next few weeks, Michelle  Austin, the district Director of Finance and Business Operations, and  the Superintendent of Schools are meeting individually with every principal, administrator, and members of the staff that have leadership responsibilities in the development of the school and district budget.  They all come with numbers that reflect needs, and also hopes for program improvements.  Those meetings produce a better understanding of the priorities and the realities of a school district, and community with many needs to address.  In other words, they leave with far less money  than they had hoped to receive.  The objective is to have a Superintendent’s recommended budget to submit to the School Committee, the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee by the end of December, hopefully sooner so all may begin to peruse the document prior to the workshops that being on January 7.