March 15, 2012 Stoneham School Committee meeting summary
From the March 15, 2012 Stoneham School Committee meeting:
Committee reviews graduation requirements
Stoneham Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Les Olson opened the meeting by suggesting that the committee consider adopting an “alternate credit option” for the SHS Class of 2013 to meet the new Physical Education requirement (10.0 credits). Olson said this option should be available to next year’s senior class only.
Olson said that the Class of 2013 could meet the P.E. requirement through qualified participation on SHS athletic teams or document supervised athletic activity for at least five months during the school year, a period equivalent to a semester.
The superintendent made it clear that the option would be available “only for next year” and not afterward. Olson said the state requires a four-year P.E. program. Olson said changes should bring SHS to meet state compliance in other areas, too.
Olson noted an “equity” issue where students who participate in an alternative activity are only those who could pay associated fees. He also added that such a policy could lead to students asking to “opt out” of other requirements. He said, in the long-term, it would be improper to allow that option for just one requirement.
He added that he hopes that the P.E. option does not cause problems because students could fail to qualify to participate in athletics based on academic failure, “chemical health” problems, or lack of athletic ability, etc.
SHS parent Wendy Smith thanked Dr. Olson and SHS Principal Donna Cargill for suggestion such an option to the committee. Smith said that the Class of 2013 would not opt out of other requirements. She added that students are “stress ridden” by the unexpected requirement change.
Smith added that students who participate in dance competition, equestrian, or other time intensive athletic activities should receive credit, not just anyone who purchases a gym membership. Smith asked the committee to accept Olson’s recommendation.
Committee member David Maurer said that the committee should consider a one-time waiver. He added that if the administration denies a waiver to a student the process should end there without appeal.
Committee member Jeanne Craigie said she attended a parent meeting to discuss graduation requirements. She said that SHS must get back to meeting the 990 hours of education requirement set forth by the state. Craigie said there is concern about adequate time to meet with guidance counselors. She said that students could leave gym for a special guidance meeting during, but she said that the P.E. requirement “keeps us in compliance.” Craigie said the committee should move forward with the alternate credit option because there was such short notice for the Class of 2013 to meet the P.E. requirement. Craigie said that the committee must make sure all students know that “no means no” in the process to determine the quality of outside athletic activities.
SHS parent Wendy Smith said that there are forms to detail the credit option. She added that coaches must be part of the process and Athletic Director David Pignone must approve the quality of the outside athletic activity.
SHS Principal Donna Cargill clarified that the committee should only allow alternative credit for students who “already” participate in an athletic activity – not a new activity. She also said, in response to guidance counselor availability, that students could miss one-half of a gym class to meet with a counselor “one time” to discuss college interviews.
Committee member Marie Christie proposed an amendment to Olson’s suggestion. She added that Superintendent Olson should have the final decision regarding qualification of a student’s outside athletic participation and that there should not be an appeal process with the committee.
Olson clarified that the vote would not make a change to the graduation policy (10.0 credits in P.E. to graduate), but the vote would be to approve a one-year waiver for only the Class of 2013.
The committee voted, 4-0, to accept the waiver proposal.
Shawmut Design and Construction presents preliminary design for proposed new middle school, responds to questions
Multiple members of Shawmut Design and Construction, led by Tony Milliote (VP of Shawmut’s Academic Group), provided a visual presentation of the preliminary design and timeline for construction of a new Stoneham Middle School. The new school would combine new construction adjacent to the current Central Elementary School and a renovation of Central Elementary School. The project calls for the razing of the existing middle school after construction is complete on the new building.
Jeff Luxenberg, Owner’s Project Manager with Joslin, Lesser, and Associates, also appeared with the Shawmut team.
Milliote said his company has 30 years of experience in the field, completing $675 million in construction projects last year. He said the company is employee owned. Milliote added that Shawmut earned $275 million last year from academic projects primarily in the Boston area. Shawmut, Milliote said, employs more than 400 people in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York.
Milliote said that Shawmut has completed projects at Yale University, Harvard University, Brown University, Northeastern University, Phillips Andover and Exeter Academies, Boston Children’s Museum, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Wayland High School, and Uxbridge High School among others.
After Milliote and the Shawmut team presented a slide show that demonstrates multiple phases of construction and its relation to the existing buildings and school activities, the team fielded questions from residents in attendance.
Committee member David Maurer stated that his biggest concern is safety. He said that considering the dust and noise at the construction site, the community needs a way to communicate with Shawmut if things are not going properly.
Milliote said that signage appears on every project with information to contact Shawmut at any time. He said that he and his company “live and breathe” safety. Another member of team said that he, a Melrose resident, would be available to respond 24 hours every day. He said that if someone calls Shawmut’s main number after office hours, an answering service finds Shawmut leaders.
Committee member Jeanne Craigie, also the Chair of the Stoneham Building Committee, said that all information would be linked to the SPS website and that the committee would meet weekly during construction – if voters accept the funding proposal for the project on April 3.
Committee member David Maurer noted that surveillance would be important to prevent vandalism and theft.
Committee member Marie Christie asked for clarification about the project completion date, November 27, 2014. Milliote said that the project completion includes demolition of the original middle school building and added landscaping and minor improvements to the site after school opens in September 2014. Christie asked if Shawmut would guarantee the school opening in September 2014. Milliote said Shawmut would make such a guarantee.
Maurer asked if Shawmut offers a warranty on workmanship. He asked what Stoneham would do if the town found problems after completion. Milliote said that Shawmut offers a one-year warranty and contacts the school department eleven months after completion to walk through the facility. He said Shawmut is proactive regarding its warranty.
Longbow Road resident Julie DeSimone asked Milliote how many times Shawmut worked on a project at an occupied elementary school. Milliote said that Shawmut had done such work at Belmont Day School, Milton, and Noble & Greenough School. He added that Shawmut had successfully completed projects at the Perkins School for the Blind, a facility occupied by Special Education students. He also said that Shawmut does the vast majority of its work at occupied sites including the Boston Children’s Museum. He said his crews are “accustomed” to kids being near the sites.
DeSimone asked for a list of available elementary schools to contact for assurance. Milliote said that Shawmut provided such a list to the Stoneham Building Committee.
Lawndale Road resident Dick Pignone asked if Shawmut had submitted a final budget for the project. Milliote said it was too soon in the process for such a proposal. Pignone asked how the election ballot could then state a specific dollar amount for debt exclusion. Committee member Jeanne Craigie responded that the project had only reached Phase One and that Jeff Luxenberg of Joslin, Lesser, and Associates could better answer the question.
Luxenberg explained that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) estimates the amount needed for a project to meet state requirements. MSBA is part of the funding process from the outset of the project. The Stoneham Building Committee and MSBA recently hired Shawmut. The design company must estimate costs to assure that project costs remain within budget. MSBA does not allow anything to lead to cost overruns. Shawmut must stay within budget.
Brackett Avenue resident Andy Valeriani asked the panel about the known contamination at the site. He asked how the builders would prevent adverse effects.
Tony Milliote of Shawmut Design and Construction said that his company works with professional groups to plan. He said Shawmut would not remove contaminated soil if possible, but all workers on the site would act as a team to prevent adverse effects.
Valeriani asked if the team would conduct testing throughout the process. Milliote said Shawmut would.
School Committee member Jeanne Craigie said that the site is registered as a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) site. She said that the group would review the site with a licensed professional. She added that the plan instead calls for removing soil, but for driving down and covering the soil. Craigie noted that the project is in its very early stages and not all details are known. She said the committee would move forward if voters accept the funding proposal at the polls on April 3.
Crystal Drive resident Wendy Pignone commented on the preliminary traffic pattern that would lead drivers from Pomeworth Street to the loop near the middle school and then back out down the Central School driveway. Pignone said that traffic in the area is a big issue.
Tony Milliote of Shawmut said that there would be need for mitigation. He said the contractor, architect, and committee would need to develop a plan. A single way in and out design is the first thought, not a permanent plan. Milliote said that his company would work with a traffic engineer to find the best solution to the traffic flow problem.
Pignone said that voters should know what to expect before they go to the polls on April 3 to make a decision to accept or reject the project. Pignone added that Shawmut has a good reputation, the “best there is” relative to safety. She also said that students in grades 5-8 would be in the new building during demolition in September 2014.
School Committee Chair Shawn McCarthy said that demolition would be done during the summer of 2014, before students enter the new building. Jeff Luxenberg of Joslin, Lesser, and Associates said that the new building would be ready for occupation in May 2014, but Shawmut would complete renovations by September 2014.
Wendy Pignone asked if there is asbestos at the current middle school. Superintendent Dr. Les Olson said that there was an inspection done last year. The cost of removing asbestos is in the budget.
Dick Pignone of Lawndale Road returned to the microphone. He asked about the quality of education during construction. He also asked about fence materials.
Tony Milliote of Shawmut said that fencing could appear in multiple forms. He said his company would get feedback from the Stoneham School Building Committee about the best option. He said Shawmut would meet with the SBC to determine the best way to handle dust and sound. He said there are many options, but the group would make decisions together.
A member of the Shawmut team said that fences on the project would be hard to climb. He added that fences six to eight feet high would secure the site. He also said there would be no top rail to deter climbing over the fence. He addressed the quality of education question by stating that much of the demolition would occur in summer months to minimize the educational impact. He said Shawmut would get a copy of school testing schedules. He said the company could shut down all external activities during testing weeks.
Dick Pignone continued to express concern for distractions that could affect education quality during construction. A Shawmut team member that the company has put additions on to buildings while class is in session as the construction crew could work after school hours, for example.
Julie DeSimone of Longbow Road returned to the microphone. She asked if there would be any cost savings by working on an unoccupied building. Superintendent Olson said that the SBC discussed the option, but the town is unable to handle displacing all SMS students and Central Elementary students. Thus, there would be no savings related to that proposal. DeSimone concluded that she has concern for younger students beginning the school year in a construction zone.
Olson said that the committee would need to set new district boundaries to relocate younger students, but there’s not enough time. He added that he understands the concern, but safety is a concern for all students, not just the younger ones.
Park Avenue resident Patrick Brown asked if the elementary school would be left exposed to the adjacent construction site. Luxenberg said that the buildings connect, but there would not be an open passage to the site. Brown also asked about monitoring air quality at the site. Shawmut representatives said they have already tested the air quality to have a baseline and the company would continue to test air quality throughout construction.
Brown then asked if Shawmut could forecast the number of early release days and if the company could anticipate any shut down times. Luxenberg said that Shawmut would work around the school schedule.
Highland Avenue resident Randy Perillo (NOTE: the author of this summary) asked the committee about the quality of personnel at the site. He asked if Shawmut conducts criminal background checks or drug testing. Jeff Luxenberg of Joslin, Lesser, and Associates responded that all workers and subcontractors must undergo such checks and tests.
Carmen Avenue resident Martha Buckley assured parents that students would handle the transition well. She said students handled the construction of the elementary schools a few years back. Buckley said she was active in PTO at that time and all worked well regarding traffic patterns and there was not much disruption of learning. She encouraged people to look forward. “That crappy, old building needs to go,” she said. “The community realizes that it needs this.” Buckley concluded that neighboring communities are undergoing similar projects.
School Committee Chair Shawn McCarthy said that there has been a limited budget to this point and it is difficult to answer all questions in full detail.
School committee member and Stoneham School Building Committee (SBC) Chair Jeanne Craigie said that the state embraces the project and the committee has hired the best firm available to build it. Craigie offered to discuss the project with anyone. She said is willing to hear questions, but the project may not be far enough along to answer them all. She said the Owner’s Project Manager is an expert in the field. She added that all players would listen to the community and work together to create a “rebirth” for Stoneham. She concluded that all SBC meetings are open to the public.
Fiscal 2013 Budget
Superintendent Dr. Les Olson said that he recommends a $400,696 reduction to the budget he proposed earlier. He said that two-thirds of the reductions come from the proposal to add full-day kindergarten for all students in the district. Olson said that Stoneham is just not able to go forward with the proposal right now. The proposal called for $276,976.
Olson said that grade 5 Social Studies texts, elementary level science kits, half of athletic restoration, and a $36,000 Special Education tuition (no longer required because a student moved out of the district) brings the reduction total to $400,696.
Current kindergarten registration is 154, an increase from last year, Olson explained, but still below enrollment numbers for the past five or six years. He added that there is a “good increase” toward voluntary full-day kindergarten registration. Olson said that 96 students plan to attend full-day sessions (at a cost to parents).
Olson also noted changes in the school department’s technology staff. Dave Armstrong is resigning in April and going to work in a different school system. According to Olson, the department should divide his responsibilities into two components, but the school department administration plans to further discuss that possibility.
The two components of Armstrong’s position are (1) Information Management Systems (IMS), a necessary position as the state looks to expand both management and instruction, and (2) Information Technology (IT) Coach, a teaching position, also necessary as it addresses instructional planning, co-teaching between classroom and tech teachers, and teacher/management relations.
Olson said he is “not positive about the position” as, again, department administration plans to further discuss the future.
One aspect to consider is the organizational design; to whom would the new positions report? Olson said the new positions, if created, would likely report to the Director of Curriculum, not anyone in one particular school.
Committee member David Maurer said he did not find it surprising that Armstrong handled two areas. He added that splitting the responsibilities makes sense. He also noted that he thinks the salary range is higher than it should be (approximately $55,000).
Committee member Jeanne Craigie agreed that splitting the position makes sense. She said overseeing technology for grades 1-12 is “a lot of work.” Craigie also expressed that she feels the technology staff need to be available to all schools and should not reside in one building. Craigie disagreed with Maurer’s statement about salary. She said that a $40,000-$55,000 salary doesn’t go very far today.
Committee member Marie Christie asked if the department would be creating two full-time positions. Olson replied that one position would operate for twelve months while the other would be a standard teaching position. The twelve month position would allow the district to prepare its new technology over the summer so students and staff would benefit in September. Christie asked what the IT Coach position would pay. Olson said, according to teacher salaries, the base is $40,000. Christie asked if the positions would come with benefits. Olson said they would include benefits.
Olson said that replacing Armstrong with two positions would cost roughly the same amount as the district pays now. He added that Stoneham Public Schools would need to more ahead rapidly (advertising the position and receiving applications) as Armstrong is leaving April.
Olson reported the Town of Stoneham has not yet set its budget for fiscal 2013. He added, however, that it is unlikely the school department could fill the “new” elementary reading position or grade 2 position. The district plans to post openings in Special Education, High School Adjustment Counselor, and the IT Coach position, but there is no commitment until the town provides the school department with its final budget.
Olson asked the committee to approve the $400,696 budget reduction as outlined. The committee voted, 4-0, to approve the reductions.
Local Mobil station donates $500 to Stoneham Middle School; committee member asks parents to park elsewhere when awaiting children
Superintendent Dr. Les Olson announced that the owner of Main Street Mobil, 250 Main Street, donated $500 to Stoneham Middle School. Main Street Mobil is in close proximity to Stoneham Middle School. The station and the On The Run store maintain a close relationship with the school.
Committee member Jeanne Craigie said that she is a frequent customer at the station and store. She noted that the owner, Mr. Sardello, hopes to continue a good relationship with the school. Craigie also noted that many SMS parents park in the Mobil lot in the afternoon as school lets out. Craigie asked that parents act as good citizens and find another place to park while awaiting their students. Craigie said that Sardello has a busy, thriving business and SMS parents should show respect for his parking spaces and personal property.
Committee member David Maurer said that people are not picking up dog waste at Robin Hood Elementary School. He suggested that the committee send a letter to the community to remind everyone that Stoneham Public Schools do not allow dogs on school property. He said the problem relates to the mess, not dogs exercising, but the committee should put a plea out to the community to keep dogs away from school.
Committee member Marie Christie reminds all to attend the SBCEF Trivia Bee on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. at Robin Hood School.
Christie also noted the Stoneham High School Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet. Montvale Plaza hosts the event on Saturday, March 31.
Committee member Jeanne Craigie thanked Stoneham Middle School PTO for conducting “Facing up to Facebook,” a social media safety seminar for parents. Craigie said the event provide great information and attracted a good amount of parents. Superintendent Olson said that the PTO contacted Stoneham Public Schools to do a video follow-up or another presentation. Olson said that one presentation is not enough.
Craigie also reminded the public to attend the April 1 “Light it up Blue” celebration to promote Autism awareness. The event begins at 2:00 p.m. and continues until 5:00 p.m. on Stoneham Common. Wear blue! The group plans to decorate Stoneham Common with blue lights so visit the common after dark during the week of April 1.