Schools take aim at class sizes with bigger ’16 budget

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The Canton School Committee decided last Thursday night to submit a “catch-up budget” for the next fiscal year that would substantially eliminate higher classroom counts at the middle and high schools.

The new budget number is $37,159,654, approximately $175,000 more than the one proposed a few weeks ago by Superintendent Jeff Granatino and $1.38 million more than the preliminary target set by Finance Director Jim Murgia. Murgia’s budget figure only allowed for slightly more than $1 million in new contract costs and no new programs or staff.

The School Committee’s budget will now go to the Finance Committee for review. The town’s Revenue Forecast Committee — made up of Murgia, Town Administrator Bill Friel, and members of FinCom and the Board of Assessors — is also expected to meet soon to establish a firmer budget figure based on new growth revenue and local aid projections for the coming fiscal year. The committee is awaiting projections by new Governor Charlie Baker, a former selectman who to this point has advocated a strong local aid program for Massachusetts communities.

School officials acknowledged that their final budget figure may have to be trimmed or cut as part of a compromise with the Finance Committee, which has occurred in past years. For now, the budget contains money to accommodate earlier start times at the middle and high schools — primarily extra busing costs — as well as funds for several new classroom teacher positions.

Granatino’s original budget proposal had called for an additional 12.7 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions throughout the district. However, the revised budget approved last Thursday includes funding for an additional 12.5 positions in the secondary schools alone — 5.1 at GMS and 7.4 at CHS — as well as an additional third grade teacher at the Hansen School.

At one point during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, committee member Reuki Schutt asked CHS Principal Derek Folan whether he would prefer later start times or additional teaching staff if forced to choose between the two. Folan said he would strongly prefer the latter option, while adding, “I believe in investing in people. I’m for creating a better classroom experience.”

The committee would like to adhere to its classroom size guidelines at the secondary level, which calls for a maximum of 22 to 24 students in English, science, math and social studies courses; 18 to 20 in foreign language; 22 to 25 in physical education and wellness; 18 to 20 in industrial arts; and 22 to 24 in drama, music and art.

A recent analysis conducted by Granatino, Folan and GMS Principal Dr. Bill Conard found significant class size problems at both schools. The study found more than 150 classes at the GMS that are currently over the guidelines, including one-third of science classes; one half of social studies, world language and wellness classes; and two-thirds of art classes.

At Canton High, the study found nearly 60 classes over the suggested guidelines, including one-fifth of the math classes; a quarter of the social studies classes; one-tenth of the physical education classes; and one-fourth of all STEAM classes, which includes science, technology, engineering, arts and math. In addition, the committee has endorsed Folan’s suggestion of adding additional staff for a two-year world language requirement, including expanded Mandarin offerings and a new introductory sign language course.

Also included in the proposed school budget for FY16 are additional funds for reading support at the secondary level; additional special education support at the kindergarten level; enhanced technology support and instruction at the elementary level; increased tutoring services; additional nursing support at CHS; and increased sub-varsity supervision in athletics.

See this week’s Canton Citizen for more highlights from the January 22 School Committee meeting. Not a subscriber? Click here to order your subscription today.

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