The weather outside is frightful and not at all delightful!!! (What were those lyricists thinking when they penned that song?) As the Town struggles to find places to put the snow as well as funds to pay for it, we are hoping that we will not have to add another day to the end of the school year. Because we have used four snow days already, we have only one remaining. It is certainly possible that we will need to use them all. If we do use all five, the last day of school will be June 21st. We will surely keep you informed as we move through the winter months ahead.
I am writing today to bring you up to date on several issues that affect the schools and consequently, affect you as parents and as taxpayers. Those that are most important at the present time are new building construction, the FY12 budget, and the outcome of the Special Education audit conducted by Futures Management.
The Freeman-Kennedy School
At last Wednesday’s meeting, the School Committee reviewed nominations for the new school’s name that had been submitted by members of the Norfolk community. They decided to name the school The Freeman-Kennedy School honoring both Alvin J. Freeman, a member of the Norfolk School Committee for 33 years, and Sgt. Adam Kennedy, a young Norfolk citizen and graduate of the Freeman Centennial School, who gave his life in Operation Iraqi Freedom on April 8, 2007.
The new school construction project is moving along according to schedule. During the months of December and January, Fontaine Brothers has been installing temporary fencing and completing the access road. Three trailers have been set up and structural fill has been brought onto the site. The principal meets regularly on site with the Project Manager to keep up to date on what is happening from week to week.
We are looking forward to meeting with Flansburgh architects to consider furniture options and to remain current on technology planning. We will be seeking staff input in both of these areas and will continue to collaborate with all parties to ensure that the final product is a beautiful building that works for the schools and the community. The Groundbreaking Ceremony will take place in the early spring when we hope there will be no snow! The celebration will include a performance by our Advanced Band and we expect that students in both schools will attend. When the school is completed prior to the 2012 school year, we will schedule tours for the Norfolk community. We hope to see you there!
The FY12 Budget
Each day as we move forward the budget news seems to get worse. While there is no way to predict at this moment in time exactly what the final numbers will be, I can say with relative certainty that they are not good. Schools and towns across the state are all struggling to maintain services with less money. Some districts have been hit especially hard in the past few years and one more year of cuts is almost unthinkable. Here are some simple facts about our situation:
1. Today’s school budget is lower than it was five years ago.
2. Over the past five years, critical lines in the schools’ budgets have been reduced to $0. These include technology, books, professional development and curriculum development.
3. Over the past five years, support positions have been eliminated in key areas including assistant principals and clerical help in the central office.
4. Over the past five years, Special Education funding has increased by $700,000.
5. State and Federal support for schools has been reduced drastically. Circuit Breaker SPED funding is severely reduced by nearly half and ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act) funds, $120,000, will disappear entirely at the end of this fiscal year.
6. A budget designed to restore these basic areas and continue to provide adequate instructional support would demand an increase of 12% or nearly $1 million dollars.
Clearly, there is no realistic expectation that the town could support an increase of that proportion. Nevertheless, we can’t expect to hold on to the quality of the school district with less than a budget that is level funded. The School Committee and I have been working to find a way to begin to restore some of the essential instructional and administrative services by working to restructure Special Education and increasing class size. In both cases, the instructional needs of children are the first priority. Consequently, in all cases, the IEPs of students will be met and class size will remain at or below 22 in K, 1 and 2 and at or below 25 in grades 3 – 6. Of course, if there is an unanticipated reduction below level funding, then we will need to re-examine all of our assumptions.
In short, we are planning to reduce 8 SPED aides, 1 Guidance/Psychologist, 3 Resource teachers, 2 Reading Specialists, 3-combined Speech/Language, OT and PT. In addition, we will reduce 3 classroom teachers from grades 1, 2 and 3. Finally, we are currently recommending reducing the Technology Director from a full-time to a half-time position in light of the fact that the state of our technology is so weakened that we do not have enough to warrant a full-time Director. If we should be able to restore that line item, we will, naturally, have to reconsider this decision.
I encourage you to attend the Budget Hearing on February 15th. This is your opportunity to share your thinking about how the School Committee should go forward in making final decisions about the budget to present to Town Meeting.
Special Education Audit
Early in the fall I recognized that, for many years the Norfolk Public Schools enjoyed a level of financial support that was extraordinary and, as a result, had very generous staffing ratios in Special Education. In fact, Norfolk’s Special Education department is currently close to the best, if not the best staffed K – 6 department in the state. Because the quality of service here has been truly outstanding, it is very difficult for parents and for teachers to consider backing away from some of the extra services we have been able to provide.
Because we needed an unbiased analysis of the “big picture” in Special Education, we asked Futures Management, an organization that specializes in this work, to conduct an audit of our program and to provide us with recommendations for improvement and efficiencies, as well as a review of our program in the light of federal and state mandates and best practice.
Very briefly, the report concluded that the Norfolk SPED Department is more highly staffed than other similar districts in the State. The report also points out improvements that can be made in the way we work with students in the SPED Program that will promote more inclusion and provide better access to the general curriculum. These findings, although a change in the way we have been thinking, are exciting in that they offer Norfolk significant savings that can be invested back into core school services.
Please consult this document and contact Jack Stokes, Director of Special Education with specific questions, comments, or ideas. The full text of the Futures Report is available at the following link:
The past several months have been at once rewarding, revealing and challenging. I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with outstanding professionals among teachers, administrators and staff and look forward to continuing as Interim Superintendent for one more year. My effort to understand the culture of Norfolk and its schools has taught me about the strength of this community, its civic pride and its appreciation of the gifts of the past and the promise of the future. It is not easy to supervise an excellent school district when fiscal constraint threatens change and restructuring. Change is difficult for everyone involved. While I can’t predict how well the schools will be financed next year, I can promise you that the teachers, administrators and staff will continue to do everything humanly possible to provide the highest quality education to Norfolk’s children.
Thank you for your support of our children and the Norfolk Public Schools.
Please feel free to contact me at with specific comments or questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org