With a fiscal year 2015 budget approved and a report from outside accountants in hand and released, last Wednesday’s Groton-Dunstable School Committee meeting was less about accounting and budgets than the last several meetings have been. The committee did follow up on plans announced earlier and voted to increase athletic fees and hired the last member of the district’s new administration team, but a large portion of the meeting was devoted to hearing how students and residents are reacting to budget problems.Senior Emily Gaines was the first person to the microphone after Committee Chair Alison Manugian opened the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I am president of the high school Drama Guild and I am speaking here on its behalf. As you all know, we are very concerned about the theater teacher being cut and how it is going to affect the Drama Guild. What we want to emphasize is how important Ms. Martell is to the Drama Guild, and how it is unlikely we will be able to put on such amazing performances without her to lead us.”
“Four years ago Ms. Martell became involved in the program for a full year, and managed to organize three performances that year. She was not a teacher here, yet she still made a significant difference in the Drama Guild dynamic. Two years ago we were lucky enough to have her start teaching several Theatre classes, and since then the group has experienced amazing improvements. We have grown from 20 to 40 members, and we continue to pull together three spectacular productions a year.”
“Laying off Ms. Martell means cutting the drama program entirely. That is all there is to it. Without her, the Drama Guild would not be able to produce such amazing shows each year. As a Drama Guild, we feel abandoned. We see no effort from the school to support us, no effort to learn about the program and no understanding of how difficult it is to pull off each individual show, let alone several,” she told the committee.
The Drama Guild is a self-funded student group, separate from the high school’s theater classes.
In addition to Gaine’s speech, several students made heartfelt appeals to the School Committee, sharing their stories of how being in the Drama Guild helped them overcome shyness and make new friends when high school was proving to be a painful experience for them.
Gaines pointed out that unlike athletics, participating in the drama program required no experience and includes everyone who wants to join, and that Martel’s class had provided the high school’s PAVE program for young adults with special needs a way to develop friendships and enhance communication skills.
High School Principal Mike Mastrullo expressed his sympathy and support for the students’ distress at the loss of Ms. Martel but was firm in his assertion that there is not sufficient interest and enrollment to justify funding that position. He emphasized that the high school will continue to have a drama program adding that that they considered funding the extra curricular portion of the program through the Groton Community Education program (as the Middle School does), but the staff involved at that time declined to pursue that option.
School Committee member Jim Frey said that the Committee “… would like the administration to consider this and come back with solutions for maintaining the integrity of the Drama Guild.”
When Brian DiGiovanni, of Groton, took the microphone, he told the committee and audience that a group of “concerned” residents and parents have formed Advocates for Promoting Educational Excellence (APEX). DiGiovanni is co-chair of the group, with Amy Kelly. According to its Facebook page, APEX’s mission is “protecting and improving the learning environments for children in G-DRSD, and to create and support initiatives to address future funding hurdles.”
DiGiovanni said that as he watched Groton’s and Dunstable’s boards and School Committee, he has “borne witness to the fact that we have a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience but yet we have stumbled.”
Pointing to Groton Town Manager Mark Haddad’s walk out at the previous week’s joint School Committee/Board of Selectmen/Finance Committee meeting, he said, “Hopefully last week was the low point. My plea is that we try to come together and work on this.” APEX is planning meetings in both towns over the next week, and appealed to the audience to join and support the group’s efforts to support education in Groton and Dunstable.
Since the meeting, APEX has launched a website at http://www.4rgdrsdkids.org/.
It also has a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/4rgdrsdkids
Members of APEX also plan “information sessions” regarding the FY15 school budget, Kelly wrote in an email: Wednesday, March 19 at both 3:15 and 6 p.m. at the Swallow Union Elementary School and Wednesday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the PAC at the Groton-Dunstable Middle School.
The School Committee also put the last member of an entirely new administrative team into place, unanimously approving the appointment of Lyn Snow as the district’s new Director of Pupil Personnel Services (PPS), effective July 1, 2014. The PPS Director oversees the District’s special education, nursing, and guidance services.
Interim Superintendent Tony Bent and incoming Superintendent Kristan Rodriguez explained that Snow’s nomination was the result of a search conducted by a committee representing the many constituencies of PPS, and that Snow and another finalist each spent a day meeting with groups of parents, teachers and administrators. Rodriguez and Bent reviewed feedback from those meetings, checked references, and Rodriguez selected Snow as the best candidate for the job.
Rodriguez said that Snow “showed a command of the budget” and a strong grasp of what the job entails and how she could contribute. Snow works in the Marblehead schools and will replace Cam Huston, who is retiring at the end of June.
The School Committee voted to raise high school athletic fees for FY2015, which Stanton says will go a long way toward making athletic programs self-supporting. The fee for Alpine ski will go from $300 to $450, with the understanding that the fee will go up any time the costs of lift tickets goes up. The fee for Ice Hockey will go up from $400 to $500, plus the cost of ice time, which averages out to about $200 a year per player.
Fees for all other high school sports except Unified Track and Field will rise from $300 to $400 a year. Unified track will stay at $300. All fees, with the exception of the ice time fee, will count toward a $1500 high school family cap.
Middle School fees will still be $210 per year per sport with a $1000 family cap. Families with athletes in both schools will be subject to the caps within each school, with no family paying more than $2500 in fees.