SHIRLEY -- The School Committee received a glimpse of good news last week, looking over state local aid estimates that put the district $97,000 above its certified fiscal 2015 budget.
Revenue from the state, including regional school transportation and charter tuition reimbursement, was $23,000 less than estimated in the certified budget passed by the School Committee on April 1.
But Superintendent Carl Mock and School District Director of Finance Evan Katz explained a drop in the number of estimated charter school students left an extra $170,000 in the district's charter-sending tuition. The committee also over-estimated the amount of school choice tuition they would receive by about $50,000, leaving the excess at about $97,000.
While the news was positive, Mock warned that there are a lot of other "if" situations that could add unexpected costs in the future. The final local aid amounts have also yet to be finalized by the state House and Senate.
"I'm not sure you're in a position where you want to make a dramatic re-adjustment in your certified budget based on that margin, especially when you've got deliberations at the state level going on," Mock said.
Committee members seemed to agree.
"I wouldn't be comfortable making any changes at this point, even with that information, it's enough for me," said member Dan Gleason.
Chairman Pat Kelly noted that the whole process was "far from over.
The committee learned about an in-depth, three-month review of the district commissioned by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. John Roper of the Center for District and School Accountability emphasized that the report would be based on direct observance from a team of former superintendents, principals and others experienced in education.
"It's not like Department of Education bureaucrats who show up with clipboards," he said.
The review team will study data and document analysis before conducting an on-site visit that should last four days, Roper said.
During the visit, the team will be interviewing members of the School Committee, teachers union and parent council, as well as making classroom observations.
The goal, he explained, is to make helpful recommendations for the district.
"But they are just that, they are recommendations, they are not requirements, they are not things you have to develop contingency plans for," he said. "They're not things you have to do. They are strictly recommendations for challenge that you face."
Roper said it would be a good idea for the incoming superintendent to take a look at the report, which should be ready by some time next school year.
"This, for an incoming superintendent, is like rain from heaven," he said. "And for a School Committee, it's a chance to confirm what you know."
Roberta Aikey, middle-school assistant principal, brought a breath of hope for the future, telling the School Committee that the middle-school will reach the highest "Level 1" school performance rating.
Aikey highlighted three major goals of the middle-school's improvement plan, which includes improving reading and writing, improving math scores and increasing parent and student engagement.
"We really believe with those three things, with laser focus, that we can move our school to a Level 1 school, and that's our goal," she said.
Committee member James Quinty brought up the idea of keeping important connections between students, noting that his third-grade daughter reads with a kindergartner regularly.
Kelly said the middle and high school could have its own open-mic night.
"You're going to have two spaces in that new academic wing that would lend themselves to be great open-mic night spaces, and then the following summer when the commons is finished you'll have a third," he said.
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