SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 14, 2013

Danvers school chief outlines budget priorities

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — The superintendent’s budget overview may lack numbers, but it outlines the staffing needs and focus for the upcoming school year, with a heavy emphasis on special education and ways to keep students from dropping out.

The School Committee has scheduled a budget hearing Feb. 27 and plans to vote on the budget March 11. The present fiscal year’s school budget was nearly $33.4 million. Superintendent Lisa Dana presented the fiscal 2014 overview to the school board on Monday.

To keep students from dropping out and help them recover credits for required courses they failed, Dana is proposing a credit recovery computer lab “to use technology to support students who need to get their course credits in a timely manner.” Danvers High alumnus Brian Rogers donated $50,000 through the Danvers Educational Enrichment Partnership’s capital campaign to pay for the computer lab’s technology.

“I think credit recovery makes a lot of sense,” School Committee member Eric Crane said.

Dana is also proposing a special education therapeutic program at the high school to help keep students from dropping out.

“The typical high school schedule doesn’t meet every student’s needs,” said Dana, who said the program would address social and emotional needs of students and would require a special education teacher.

At the middle school, Dana wants to add positions to make sure each team has enough teachers for each subject area. Typically, teams of middle school students are taught by a team of teachers. However, in some instances, a math or science teacher may also be teaching social studies to a team.

“You really should have a social studies teacher teaching social studies,” Dana said.

The School Department is also looking to add programs for English-language learners, given a demographic shift in town. This school year, 5.3 percent of students are Hispanic, according to the school/district profile on the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website. That’s up from 1.5 percent in 2003 and 3.2 percent in 2008.

Meanwhile, Student Services, under the direction of Mary Tatem, is looking to add special education programs so that students do not have to be sent to expensive, out-of-district placements.

Crane said that while upfront costs may be greater, “you are ultimately going to have savings and you are going to have a much greater service level.”

Additional textbooks and supplies are also part of this year’s budget, Dana said.

“In tight budget years, these are the things we keep taking a little bit more off,” Dana said.

The schools plan to work with the Police Department to help pay for two school resource officers, positions that have been cut back in recent years due to police budget constraints.

Dana said the budget is based on the school’s five-year strategic plan, which ends this year. A Strategic Plan Advisory Council, focus groups and surveys are helping shape a new five-year improvement plan, she said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.