WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple recently asked all six Wilmington School Committee candidates a few questions about the school district’s budget.
This week’s response schedule is as follows: Amy Largenton (Monday), Sabrina Hewitt (Tuesday), Jennifer Bryson (Wednesday), Steve Bjork (Thursday), Kathleen O’Donoghue (Friday), Rhonda Musikar-Rosner (Saturday), and a recap (Sunday).
Below is the response from candidate Rhonda Musikar-Rosner.
QUESTION: The School Committee reviews, approves, and oversees the operation the school district’s budget. (1) Describe any areas of the school budget you feel is currently underfunded? (2) Describe any areas of the school budget you feel is currently overfunded? (3) Do you have any ideas on how the district can save money without negatively impacting student learning?
ANSWER: After looking through the 2017-2018 school budget, I would like to commend Mrs. Benton on producing a financial plan that in her own words “leaves no student behind and ensures that all of our students achieve their highest potential.” The budget that was created upholds the mission statement that our school community strives to obtain. A place where all students have the opportunity to learn through high quality teaching which includes; rigorous and engaging personalized instruction in an environment where they feel safe and supported. Highlights in the budget include reinstating the library media specialist at the Boutwell, Wildwood and Middle School Schools. Positions that were covered by parent volunteers because parents felt strongly that access to the library has a positive impact on a child learning and love of reading. This was a positive development. Overall the budget that was created for the upcoming school year touches on the important points of class size, meeting individual needs and a goal of retaining quality teachers.
After reading the budget (which is almost as challenging to me as doing Envisions Math with my children), I feel that there are few programs that are overfunded. However, there are areas that can use some reworking for the 2018-2019 school year. The budget needs to take in account that it is necessary with older buildings to budget for maintenance, safety and creating healthy environments for students and staff. Last year we had several schools where it was unhealthy for students to drink from the fountains due to the poor quality of pipes. This year there were unexpected issues at the Wildwood that shut down the kitchen for a week. Another area which will need more funding in the upcoming school years is technology and classroom instruction. In order for Wilmington schools to keep up with academic demands of the 21st century there needs to be more money spent on technology and direct instruction for students. Mrs. Benton’s budget supports the start of a Tech Academy for the students in the summer. Which is a great start in this area. During the summer of 2015, there was an opportunity to take a free coding class at the High School for the 4th and 5th graders that was educational and fun for the kids. Wilmington needs to budget more opportunities for classes during the summer time that provide a bridge to learning between school years that are affordable to all residents.
Since all Wilmington students attend the Middle School, there should be more money budgeted towards the Middle School. This current year there has been a decrease in funding for professional development for the teachers. There needs to be more funds added so that the teachers can attend workshops that pertain to attending to child’s social emotional learning while meeting the rigorous demands of academics. There should be more money budgeted to provide programs that give extra support to both students and teachers at the Middle School level. From my background as a School Counselor, I realize that the middle school years are the toughest years for children socially. Combined with the adjustment to multiple teachers and multiple subjects ( for example in sixth grade student takes ten to eleven classes per quarter after only having one teacher for major academic subjects in the 5th grade). As a parent who was concerned about the amount of school supplies necessary for middle school, I am grateful that Mrs. Benton has included in the budget funds for more supplies at the middle school level. It will alleviate some of the financial burden on both parents and teachers. The amount budgeted for supplies in all schools needs to increase over the years.
There also needs to be funding for more afterschool programs in the K-8. In particular the Middle School. These students have the most unstructured time on their hands after school. By providing more opportunities for students at this age to engage in intramural sports and clubs it will decrease the chances of students getting involved in activities that can negatively impact them.
We also need to continue to put more funds towards teacher/administration salary. We need to ensure that teachers are paid an adequate amount to support the cost of living increases. Teacher salaries should be competitive with area towns so that we do not lose quality teachers to other school districts that pay more.
There are many ways the district can save money without impacting students learning. The first way is to provide more programs and training of teachers to meet the Special Education needs of our students. In looking over the budget, Wilmington pays a significant amount of money on transportation and tuitions for students whom the district cannot meet their educational needs in Wilmington Schools. A significant savings in this area can be invested into the Special Education programs district wide by bringing these students back to Wilmington Schools. Another means would be to increase the number and amount of Grant money in the system. This can be done by providing teams of teachers in buildings with incentives to do grant writing for each building. Community support is also important when it comes to funding programs in the schools. We live in a community with several large companies that reside here. Partnering with companies such as Target (school supplies), Unifirst (supplies for buildings), Analog Devices (Technology) and Charles River Labs (Science) are large companies that have offices in Wilmington. In addition, we have an influx of houses that are being built in Wilmington that will bring in more tax money. A portion of the extra tax money can be diverted to the schools. The final solution will be the redesigning of the schools. The school committee recently voted for schools to become K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Although, this change is a few years down the road, it will save money for transportation costs. This will allow the Kindergarten to take the bus with the older 1-5 grades eliminating the need for a fourth bus route, saving money on gas and wear and tear on our buses. The savings on transportation can be diverted into other areas of the school budget.
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