Spring 2020 Newsletter

Virtual Office Hours: Join me this Thursday, March 27th at 7 pm via Zoom, along with Ilana Krepchin, Ward 2 Representative for Office Hours. The full schedule of SC Virtual Office Hours is posted on the SPS website, including links to access. Any additions to the schedule will be updated on the SPS website and communicated on my Laura Pitone Ward 5 School Committee FB Page.

I hope this newsletter finds you and your family safe and well. Work, school and life has been strange, sad, scary and complicated for many, and certainly unexpected and different for all. More are exercising deep compassion -- for our families, our community, the inflicted, those caring for them and all our basic needs and hopefully for ourselves. It is one thing I hope we retain and even grow post pandemic, broad compassion.

The district staff has been incredibly busy revamping and delivering educational experiences for our students as well as meeting basic needs. I will share a link to the Superintendent's communications about accessing services (food, devices, internet access) for families. This newsletter will cover  the Budget for FY2021, Remote Learning, Plans for Fall, a SHS Construction Update and ways to support our community through Donations and Volunteering.

Remote SC Meetings: The SC transitioned to remote meetings in late March. The schedule, posted weekly, for remote SC meetings and links to register to attend can be found on the SPS website. Regular meetings continue to include public comment, please enter the meeting a few minutes before the start time to sign up.

Budget FY2021: The budget process is being reconsidered in the context of unknowns and concerns about available funds. It is difficult to make decisions and advocate when fundings is unclear. The city is estimating a 20% drop in revenue, due to reduced proceeds from meal and hotel taxes, parking fees and construction permits, as well as a 20-25% reduction in local aid (from the state) next fiscal year which begins July 1st. 

The city and schools have already incurred and expect additional health and safety expenditures. The CARES Act monies will alleviate some of the pandemic related expenses, but is not expected to cover all. The district is also considering additional costs for training and resources to support students as they transition back to school this fall and reregulate, as well as efforts necessary to stem and overcome significant learning loss that many of our students will experience. With all these unknowns the budget timeline is in flux. Watch for information about the rescheduling of the budget hearing.

The city is committed to maintaining essential services including our schools, and therefore not seeking across the board cuts in all departments. The district has been asked to create scenarios for FY2021 that would be a 3% and 5% reduction level service (projected costs to deliver the same level of service at the pervious year). The current draft budget is a 1.67% increase from FY2020 at $77.5 M. This draft budget (termed the “level service budget”) has cut all planned investments, brings in house some services and programming, adds additional mental health services, eliminates raises for non-union staff, and maintains union contractual salary increases. The administration has been creative in finding ways to cut costs while maintaining staff and programming, but that will be increasingly difficult if a 0% increase from FY2020 ($1.3 M) or a 3% ($2.3 M) or 5% ($3.9 M) reduction from level service is requested. Somerville has invested a great deal in enhancing our schools and all efforts will be made to minimize the impact to our students. 

Remote Learning: The district has developed a remote learning plan posted on the SPS website and continues to offer training and support for technology and remote learning for staff. The transformation of the student experience over the last months is amazing, but we still have a great deal to learn. The district is creating surveys for feedback from families on remote learning. I am also interested in hearing first hand what is working well and what needs to be improved. Contact me via email or join SC virtual office hours to share your experiences. 

Plans for Fall: As the future of this public health crisis cannot be predicted, district administrators are researching and collaborating with educators in and outside Somerville to explore options. As of now, school is expected to be a hybrid model which includes both in person and remote learning. Options are being explored, from alternating in person weeks to morning and afternoon shifts. Final plans are subject to collective bargaining. Sanitation protocols will be developed, classroom configurations and furniture considered and face coverings likely required and distributed by the district. Per the Superintendent, the district may prioritize in person time for younger students, who struggle most with access to and engagement with remote learning experiences. Although these plans will evolve over the next months, families should anticipate some level of remote learning when school begins this fall. 

Somerville High School: Congratulations to the class of 2020! The High School Staff have organized a “drive up” graduation that allows graduates to individually walk across the stage, receive their diploma and have their photo taken. Students will be scheduled at 30 intervals in three hours groups over two days to allow for social distancing. 

Construction at the High School resumed last Monday, May 18th. Safety plans have been implemented including temperature checks, frequent cleaning of common services, socially distanced cleaning stations and break areas. Although the building will not be ready for occupation in September 2020 and a new schedule is being developed targeting completion by January 2021.

Donations and Volunteering: The City of Somerville website has links for both volunteering or donating to the Somerville Cares COVID-19 Fund. Packing at the food pantry, delivering food or meals, connecting with isolated elderly, are a few of the volunteer opportunities. 

Although this is a long newsletter, I cannot end without mentioning how grateful I am for our dedicated staff and thankful for the patience, flexibility and persistence of our students and families. 

Contact me if you have any questions, concerns or ideas: [email protected]. I am happy to meet for a socially distanced walk, schedule a call or correspond over email. Click here to signup to receive my newsletters (sent a few times a year) or for more frequent updates follow or like my Laura Pitone Ward 5 School Committee Facebook Page.

Laura Pitone, Ward 5 School Committee Representative

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