Shrewsbury superintendent explains budget recommendations to selectmen
By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Shrewsbury School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Sawyer, accompanied by School Committee Chair Sandra M. Fryc and the rest of the committee, met with the Board of Selectmen Feb. 25 to outline the reasons for his fiscal year 2015 budget recommendations.
Sawyer reiterated that growing class size continues to be the most pressing issue for the town's schools. As a result, he said, there is evidence that the town's schools have slid from level 1 to level 2 in quality. Level 1 represents the state's top 20 percent of schools; level 2 includes the next 40 percent.
He told the selectmen that the average class size is 30 students, “which is too large and is compromising teaching and learning,” and has resulted in 70 percent of the town's high school classes being overenrolled.
Other issues aside, he estimated that there is a need for an additional $400,000 in the next budget to solve the problem of too few teachers, and estimated that each grade in the town's schools needs an additional three or four teachers to bring the average classroom size down to 23 or 24 students. Of particular note is the need for a new math program and personnel for grades K-8 to align with state curricula.
Other key issues, Sawyer said, include the replacement of outdated instructional materials, books and computer equipment and networking. At an average age of 10 years old, many of the schools” materials are obsolete and nearing the end of their useful life.
Also important, he said, are the costs and issues of meeting mandated special education and student mental health needs, which will involve additional staff and program management and will boost the total special education budget needed to $2 million. With bullying and other student behavior problems becoming ever more visible, the school system has had to institute an informal “triage system,” in which the most disruptive and violent students often have to be sent outside the school district at additional cost.
Sawyer summed up what he labeled as specific risk factors for the town's schools. First is academic harm to students, with a reduced number and lower quality of opportunities for students.
“Compromised school cultures and climates lead to problem behaviors in and out of school,” he said, adding that a perception of declining school standards results in declining property values and difficulty recruiting and keeping quality school personnel. He asked selectmen if the town is now willing to put the resources into the town's schools that only a few years ago made the town's school system top quality.
After several questions from selectmen, the board thanked Sawyer and the committee for the briefing, noting that adding money to the school budget was not an insignificant development, but pledging their continued support for the town's student population.
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