BOE Approves School Building Projects, Hears Activities Report
Air conditioning projects for Hawley Elementary School’s multipurpose room and Newtown Middle School’s cafeteria were approved, along with a lightning protection system project for Sandy Hook Elementary School, by the Board of Education at its meeting on December 4.
The school board also heard a report on non-athletic activity student fees at NHS.
In order to fund the three building projects, the school board approved using $191,857 from its non-lapsing account. The motion to approve the projects passed unanimously after discussion. With the school board’s approval, the request to use the funds for the projects will go before the Board of Finance for approval. If approved by the Board of Finance, Business Director Ron Beinkowski shared that the projects would be completed over the summer of 2019, in order to not disturb learners.
The ductless split Hawley project is estimated to be $25,000, the NMS ductless split project is estimated at $75,000, and the Sandy Hook School project is estimated at $135,000.
Part of the board’s discussion focused on whether the school district’s non-lapsing account should be used for projects that are not emergency needs. Responding to the topic, Board of Education member Debbie Leidlein said she does not think the non-lapsing account was created to be an “emergency fund.”
“We have a goal in mind. We’ve been putting aside this money; we’ve been doing the right thing by the taxpayers, and now we have an opportunity to use the money in a way that will benefit every student in the district, in regard to the middle school,” said Ms Leidlein.
Board members also questioned using the non-lapsing account rather than planning for the projects to be Capital Improvement Plan items, and board member Andrew Clure said he was more in favor of supporting classrooms to have cooler air rather than supporting “cooling stations.”
“To me, this also falls under the bigger discussion of declining enrollment we have and investing in the individual schools,” said Mr Clure. Later, he suggested the board look again at how many schools the district has, but also said he was not talking about closing a school. He proposed the idea to cool the A-wing at NMS and not use part of the school when enrollment declines.
“Possibly we could be just using certain wings of it, or the front of the school, or like that, and maybe we could be focusing on cooling that so we are prepared for it in the future when we have that sort of enrollment at the school,” Mr Clure said.
According to Mr Bienkowski, if classroom spaces were the focus of a building project, electrical work for the entire building would need to be completed first, which would require $260,000 of work before “you could start doing classrooms.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue said the district will always use the large gathering rooms at the schools, like the middle school cafeteria, even with declining enrollment.
After board members voiced concern about using non-lapsing account money when special education reimbursement from the state is in question or fluctuating, Mr Bienkowski said, “This is a conservative plan. It is not a recommendation to spend everything. It is a recommendation to spend about two-thirds of it.”
Fees For Activities
Following up on a self-study of Newtown High School’s Athletic Department, NHS Principal Dr Kimberly Longobucco shared a presentation of a self-study of non-athletic NHS activities at the meeting.
The Athletic Department self-study was shared at the board’s November 6 meeting.
Dr Longobucco worked with a committee for the activities self-study.
“Their goal, similar to the athletic self-study, was to determine what we have for current activities and levels of funding that would more appropriately and fairly support these programs for students and families,” said Dr Rodrigue.
The activities self-study looked at all activities “outside the realm of athletics,” according to Dr Longobucco.
“In the 65-plus clubs and activities that we have, there really are not many that there are students incurring costs,” she said.
Dr Longobucco’s presentation focused on groups that have student fees. The Future Business Leaders of America group charges $20, which Dr Longobucco said is a fee required nationally to belong to the organization; National Honor Society students pay $40 to belong to the group; Ultimate Frisbee members are charged $75 to participate; Debate Club students pay on average $600, depending on how many debates they pay to participate in, based on their performance; purchasing a yearbook costs $90; and NHS seniors pay up to $275 as senior dues, but students can choose to purchase or participate in less than the full amount of options, which would result in a lower fee.
“And then we get to a little more complex version, which is the music department,” said Dr Longobucco, switching to a slide outlining fees associated with being in the NHS Marhing Band & Guard, Winter Percussion, and Winter Guard. To be a member of the Marching Band & Guard, the fee is $600; for the Winter Percussion, the fee is $600; and for Winter Guard, the fee is $550. Both the Marching Band & Guard and Winter Guard were also listed as fundraising to help cover expenses.
Dr Longobucco outlined the expenses the groups incur to participate in trips, banquets, and shows. For those costs, the Marching Band & Guard pays $36,642. She also outlined expenses associated with instructors, drills, truck rental and maintenance, uniform cleaning, uniforms, travel to regional competitions, and supplies. For those costs, the Marching Band & Guard pays $35,496. She later clarified, following a question from Board of Education Chair Michelle Embree Ku, that if the school district covered the $35,496 charges for Marching Band & Guard, students would be charged less than the $600 participation fee in Marching Band & Guard.
“We were just looking at this in a large-scope picture. We are going to have further discussions on what we plan to do with it and how we plan to present it or move it forward in the budget... But this is just a deeper look at what is happening,” said Dr Longobucco.
The school board also heard a presentation from Regional School District 12 Superintendent Megan Bennett at the meeting. Dr Rodrigue explained the school board entered into an agreement with District 12 roughly two years ago to become a “sending school” to offer students who would otherwise enroll at NHS to instead enroll in District 12’s agricultural high school at Shepaug Valley School. Students who currently attend Nonnewaug High School would continue to attend Nonnewaug until their graduation. Next year’s high school freshmen would attend District 12 if they choose to attend the agricultural high school.
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