BREWSTER — The first cuts of next fiscal year’s budgets for the Nauset Regional middle and high schools should please selectmen. Both are showing an overall increase of less than 4 percent, the cap requested by the Orleans board.
At the Jan. 9 regional school committee meeting in Brewster, middle school principal Julie Kobold’s $8,485,859 budget showed a proposed increase of 2.91 percent over the current year. High school principal Chris Elsasser’s $12,175,114 budget has a proposed increase of 3.35 percent.
Included in each of those totals is a number to cover settlement of contract negotiations with staff. “Personnel is a big piece of this budget,” said Superintendent Tom Conrad (91.4 percent for the middle school and 91 percent for the high school). “We’ve just started (negotiations) and had a great first meeting the other night. It went better than any of us thought...We’re holding onto a number we don’t share (and are) comfortable it will carry us forward with our negotiations.”
Conrad said the system is alert to the concerns of taxpayers in its four towns.
“There isn’t a school committee in our region that’s not fully aware of the work being done relative to the high school building project,” he said. “There is a sensitivity to the region having to move forward with one of the biggest building projects of this nature the Cape has seen.” Recommendations on a limit for operating budget increases from three of the four towns, including Orleans, were included in materials given to the regional committee.
“One question that drives this discussion,” Conrad said, “is whether this budget represents the funds to have a robust and outstanding program for our kids,” which he said he confirmed with the two principals. Nevertheless, “It is lean,” the superintendent said.
Noting that the schools’ staff represents “our biggest asset,” committee member Ian Mack of Orleans asked, “How much are we spending on professional development?” “This year,” Conrad said, “we will exceed any number we’ve ever spent on professional development.”
Kobold and Elsasser walked the committee through their budgets, highlighting certain line items. The numbers revealed the changing face of education, including, for example, a significant drop in spending on traditional textbooks in favor of other learning tools. At the middle school, a part-time school adjustment counselor has been assigned to full-time status, and significant savings on electricity costs, perhaps $50,000, are expected through a partnership with Cape Light Compact that includes solar canopies in the bus parking area. Conrad said “substantial” changes in energy use are expected throughout the Nauset system, including electric cars for driver’s ed classes and a power purchase agreement partnership with the town of Wellfleet.
Elsasser was praised by member John O’Reilly for ensuring that every student in all four years at the high school has an advisor. “It’s one of the great things you’ve brought to the building,” O’Reilly said. Advising is a standard at the school, where new teachers have faculty mentors through their first three years.
The regional committee will continue its budget review in the weeks to come. Last week, members also got an update on the high school reconstruction project from building committee chairman Greg Levasseur. He said his group’s focus in the coming months will be on “more meetings, more outreach” (the project will be the subject of today’s [Jan. 16] Orleans Citizens Forum meeting at 3:30 p.m. at the senior center). This morning, several members of the building committee were to meet in Boston with Massachusetts School Building Authority staff “for a sit-down chat,” said Levasseur, “about issues we feel we need to explain to them a little bit better before (the MSBA) votes in February. We want to see how much more reimbursement we can get.” The agency’s executive board is slated to vote on a reimbursement rate at its Feb. 13 meeting.