HARVARD -- Selectmen voted to move the annual town election to run concurrently with the U.S. Senate primary election on Tuesday, April 30. The date switch caused the School Committee to revise its April school calendar accordingly.
Schools will still close on Tuesday, April 9, the original date for the town elections, for teacher professional development offerings. However, the committee voted to make the April 30 election day an early release day since townwide voting takes place in the Bromfield cafeteria.
In making April 30 an early release day, the committee voted to change the previously scheduled Wednesday, April 24, early release day into a full school day.
The committee also shifted its April meeting calendar. Due to the April vacation, the committee opted to shift it's Monday, April 22, meeting to Monday, April 29.
Bromfield has been bit by the international traveling bug. Interim Superintendent Joseph Connelly wondered if the committee ought to consider limits on the number of international trips that could occur in a school year.
"Since 9/11, these types of trips were put on moratorium," said Connelly. Last year, the decade-long trend was reversed when the Harvard School Committee approved a St. Petersburg, Russia, trip for the Bromfield Model UN Group.
For April vacation, students will also travel to Costa Rica for a trip focusing on the environment and language immersion. For the coming school year, plans have emerged for potential trips to France, London and/or Genoa, Italy.
Connelly cautioned about the potential costs. The St. Petersburg trip cost $3,500 per student; the Costa Rica trip is pegged at $3,300 per student, and early figures for the France trip are $2,700 per student.
"We're talking about several thousand dollars for these trips," said Connelly, who expressed "concern about the financial strain on families, especially if they have more than one student."
"Educationally, they're absolutely worthwhile," said Connelly.
Asked if he'd seen classmates left behind due to expense, Bromfield Senior Nick Browse said "I really didn't see that ... It never seemed to be an issue."
Browse said he didn't make the Russia trip, but many friends did. Browse noted the Model UN Club raised funds to ensure finances wouldn't keep qualified students behind.
"To me that seemed like a fair policy," said Browse. Browse encouraged the committee to keep an open mind on the number of international trips per year. "It's difficult to look forward and see what every event could bring."
Connelly offered to survey surrounding districts to see what other international travel policies and trip limits may exist.
Declining enrollment study
Committee members Kirsten Wright and Bob Sullebarger briefed the board on their study into the declining enrollment issue. For example, the enrollment subcommittee has studied whether a shrunken headcount must necessarily cut into the variety of Bromfield course offerings, and other concerns for Hildreth Elementary School.
"The school of thought is we preserve funding to the school to the maximum extent possible," said Sullebarger. "And actually expand the curriculum."
Department heads are collaborating with the enrollment subcommittee as to how offerings could be expanded with present staff. But in reality, Sullebarger acknowledged, "We'll need to extract a consensus in some way from the town" on such an approach.
"Do we want to be the shock absorber during these times and threaten the integrity of the whole program?" pondered Sullebarger. "But, that's not a conversation for today ..."
Sullebarger said the subcommittee was fascinated to dig deeper into Harvard's enrollment figures. Of 1,199 resident Harvard school-aged children, 33 students (or 2.75 percent) elect to place-out of the Harvard School District.
Of those 33 Harvard school-aged students, 22 went instead to charter schools and 11 "choiced" into other districts (BHogue 2/13/13 what does this mean?>>>a student each attend the Boxborough and Maynard districts, three attend Nashoba Regional schools, two students attend the Acton-Boxborough Regional district, and two students attend the Ralph Maher Regional School District in Orange.
Of the 11 choice-out students, Sullebarger said "100 percent" said they did so due to the "breath of the (Harvard) curriculum."
Looking around the region, choice and charter figures varied. Sullebarger said the Acton-Boxborough District lost just three students to choice/charter, which Sullebarger is "striking for such a big system." Groton-Dunstable Regional lost 37 resident students to choice/charter; Littleton lost 72 students; Lincoln-Sudbury Regional lost no students; and Nashoba Regional lost 212 otherwise in-district students to choice/charter.
Bromfield House concerns
The committee voted to spend up to $1,500 to test the air quality at the central administration offices at the Bromfield House on Massachusetts Avenue. Of concern is moisture in the basement and whether mold or other contaminants are hanging in the air as the committee considers what approach to take with the structure.
Another swirling concern: "We have a sewer line to nowhere," said committee member Keith Cheveralls. Cheveralls said Town Administrator Tim Bragan has "tried his level best" with "no such luck" to determine if the sewerage was tied into the 1990s elementary school renovation project.
Cheveralls said Bragan has assured that the Bromfield House was earmarked for $25,000 of a $125,000 2011 Town Meeting appropriation for municipal buildings downtown to tie into the new central sewer district so "funding won't be a School Committee issue."
Another concern is the electrical service at the Bromfield House. Cheveralls said the plan is to have the town's electrical inspector conduct a basic audit of what's needed to upgrade the service, if necessary.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.