Decision on closing Wareham's Minot Forest Elementary expected April 11

By Matthew Bernat | Mar 28, 2018
Photo by: Matthew Bernat Wareham Public School's Business Manager Michael MacMillan presents the proposed budget to School Committee members on Wednesday night.

School Committee members delayed a decision on Wednesday whether or not to close Minot Forest Elementary School. Committee members are scheduled to vote on the matter at their next meeting, set for April 11 at 7 p.m. in the Wareham Middle School auditorium.

At that time, a final budget will also be voted on bringing staff cuts, transportation fees and changes in school leadership positions to close a $2 million shortfall next fiscal year.

Closing the school will result in significant savings and result in slightly fewer staff reductions, officials said. Committee members are expected to recommend a $28.8 million budget. That figure must be finalized by voters at the April 23 Town Meeting.

The proposed budget is up 1.5 percent from last year. Rising salary and healthcare obligations are outstripping the school district’s ability to maintain services, said officials. The most significant increase is driven by contractual salary raises, said the school district’s Business Manager Michael MacMillan. School officials originally recommended a $30 million budget. However, town officials could only allocate roughly $28 million. That’s because municipal revenues aren’t keeping pace with increased expenses.

A budget of slightly more than $30 million would have kept current programs and staff in place. School officials have weighed cuts and explored savings associated with closing Minot Forest Elementary the past few months. If Minot Forest Elementary is closed, 30 teaching positions and two administrative positions will likely be lost, said MacMillan. If the School Committee votes to keep Minot Forest Elementary open, a total of 34 positions may be cut. He noted because the budget isn't finalized those numbers are estimates.

On Feb. 28, more than 100 residents, educators, parents and students decried the possibility of closing the school. To accommodate students, portable classrooms will be placed at Decas Elementary. Those will be paid for with town funds and not impact the district’s budget. This new configuration would see Decas Elementary with approximately 800 students attending kindergarten through third grade.

Wareham Middle School would house fourth through seventh grade students, with approximately 767 pupils attending. Recess would be held in the school’s fields, since there are no playgrounds at the middle school. Eighth graders would move to Wareham High School. Preschool students would also be moved to Wareham High School in a wing dedicated solely for them. Closing Minot Forest Elementary will save $1 million, said MacMillan.

If approved, officials are hopeful the move will be temporary. The School Building Committee, made up of members appointed by the School Committee, is working on a preliminary design proposal for a new, combined elementary school. Officials plan to build a new school at Minot Forest Elementary’s current location for a cost of $86 million. The new school would accommodate approximately 1,020 students from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. The new school has several hurdles, including approval from town voters who must agree to fund construction. The earliest construction could start is spring 2019 with an estimated timeline of two years, according to officials.

Committee member Mary Morgan asked what would happen to students if voters did not approve funds for a new school. MacMillan said because the school is in such poor condition something must be done whether a new school is built or not.

“Minot Forest needs significant work,” he said. “If it doesn’t pass we need to look at alternative options to house those students.”

He said the estimated cost of moving students out of Minot Forest Elementary is $50,000.

Rising transportation costs prompted officials to propose new fees under the budget. While the town pays for the purchase of new vehicles and their maintenance, the School Department's costs for transportation are skyrocketing due to an increase in driver salaries, increased costs of paying contract services for students who live out of district and a greater number of routes.

Students who wish to travel on school buses would have to pay, with a few exceptions. Free transportation would still be provided for students from kindergarten to sixth grade who live more than two miles from the school. The fee would be charged for those younger students who live within two miles of the school and to all students in grades seven to 12. There would be a reduction in cost for students who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

Changes to leadership positions in the district could help save money as well, MacMillan said. Currently, the School Department relies heavily on assistant principals who are supported by deans and department chairs.

The proposed solution is to remove assistant principals and add in deans and additional department chairs to provide support. Deans teach classes half-time and department chairs are also involved in teaching classes. These changes to leadership would save approximately $252,000, he said.

Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood said with a monumental choice before officials additional time was needed to reach a decision regarding Minot Forest Elementary.

“It certainly is a long, drawn out budget season and it’s not finished,” said Shaver-Hood. “We are not happy at all that we have to consider closing a school building earlier than we would like to.”

Comments (10)
Posted by: noseyrich | Mar 29, 2018 08:55

"Those will be paid for with town funds and not impact the district’s budget."

??? Town's budget, district budget??? How many pockets do the taxpayers have to fill??? If town funds are available how come they aren't given to the school budget??? And...how come the Minot Forest school was ever allowed to come into such disrepair in the first place? Poor management I suspect!



Posted by: Spherebreaker | Mar 29, 2018 10:29

This whole situation is a crock of crap. No reason we need a new school there, NONE! No reason a school should cost anything approaching the money being talked about, NONE! No reason that the school department should be allowed to take care of their buildiings, they are not capable or responsible enough to. They are to busy lining pockets of the unions



Posted by: Andrea Smith | Mar 29, 2018 10:50

Closing the school before an anticipated town vote (October 2018) on whether or not to fund an $81.1 million new school on it's site, is a less than subtle step toward trying to force a pro-funding vote.

 

I can hear the claims now, come October 2018:

 

"In the several months the school has been closed and unattended to a myriad of new problems have arisen, all the more reason to tear the school down."

 

and

 

"Everyone is adjusted to the school being closed, why disrupt them by reopening it?"



Posted by: Spherebreaker | Mar 29, 2018 12:21

I agree Andrea! I'll be a no for sure.



Posted by: Uptohere | Mar 29, 2018 12:32

There is still the option of regionalizing the high school with another town. Moving the hugh school students to another town and use the high school for all the liwer grades, pre k - 4 sell the 2 schools and use that money towards for any cost towards the high school and the state picks up the table for transportation.



Posted by: baron1701@yahoo.com | Mar 30, 2018 09:39

From the beginning this has been the aim. Its just a way to force a yes vote on a new school. Another small town with another unnecessary 85 million dollar school.



Posted by: Duffman | Mar 30, 2018 13:42

The super intendent is trying to strong arm us into building a new school by closing down the old one before the vote goes to the public. We already have three empty schools in town (East, West, and Hammond) the Boys and Girls Club is occupying Hammond, but why not sell the other properties? That might help close some of the budget gap.

The voters have already rejected an override. What makes you think we’ll go for a new school? It’s like asking to borrow a quarter, being turned down and then asking for $5. The voters will reject you.

So now what? That temporary fix becomes permanent.  Plus with this huge new low income housing development coming in we can reasonably assume more kids will be added into the school system. Are you going to squeeze them all into Decas?  Now if you want to reopen another school it will need to be brought to modern code.

How about the cost of the portables?  It might not hit the school budget, but do they expect us to believe the money comes out of the air? We’re still paying for it.



Posted by: bob | Mar 30, 2018 15:41

DUFFMAN,Also the EVERETT SCHOOL,GIBBS AVE.....



Posted by: rhbinma | Mar 31, 2018 11:48

It probably would have been cheaper to talk with these other towns that are building schools. And make it bigger and combined the towns this is not new news here. they wait till the last minute on everything and then its an emergency.

 



Posted by: Phredzzz | Mar 31, 2018 15:37

Someone or Anyone were to hand me a $86 million dollar Proposal, my VERY FIRST thought would be; DO I HAVE SUCKER WRITTEN ACROSS MY FOREHEAD ?? Its time for the Town Representative's to go back to the tried and true Design-process of asking for RFP's from all Regional and reputable Architects. They all know how to supply the Town with traditional choices of a High end, Moderate, and Low End Proposals which would ALL be capable of addressing the Towns needs, but take a different approach to get to the required end result. This dropping of the $86 million dollar Bomb and then coming back latter with a $70 million Dollar Proposal and then even a little latter with a $50 million Option just to make the taxpayers think we are getting a bargain is stupid and insulting.



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