Budget aims to market pathways to stop the ‘Pono drain’

Budget aims to market pathways to stop the ‘Pono drain’

SCITUATE – An additional $10,000 in revenue will be redirected from the Scituate School Department budget to “stop the bleeding” associated with paying for students to attend out-of-district career and technology education programs, and to market Scituate High School pathways to students.

The School Committee unanimously approved the amended changes, along with the fiscal year 2020 school budget, during a special meeting last Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Matthew Bobola, director of finance and administration for the schools, presented a $23,192,790 fiscal year 2020 budget with $19,942,829 to be requested from the town. That’s a 3 percent increase from the $19,360,969 allocated from the town in the 2019 budget.

Bobola said though the district’s expenditures increased by only 0.8 percent, the local aid request increased more due to the reduction in state funding. The town expects to receive $2,894,961 in state aid in 2020, a $474,543 decrease from 2019.

But to School Committee member Mary Manning-Morse, the most significant revenue loss in the district comes from the “Pono drain.”

According to Bobola’s report, of the $1,258,574 projected to be spent on tuition for outgoing students, $734,558 will be sent to Ponaganset for Scituate students attending pathway programs there.

“When we think of revenue, we need to stop the bleed to Ponaganset. Revenue means being very, very aggressive in the marketing of our schools,” Manning-Morse said.

Last year, 58 students left the district, with 44 going to Ponaganset. This year, the number of students leaving the district increased to 71, with 54 going to Ponaganset.

Last year, Scituate brought in approximately $90,000 in out-of-district tuition, below the $150,000 the district had budgeted for the school year. In 2020, Bobola said he expects around $210,000 to come into the district.

Bobola and the School Committee agree that the projected increase in tuition is due to the improvements to the CTE pathways achieved thanks to Scituate High School Principal Michael Hassell.

School Committee member Coleen Pendergast said Hassell can’t be both the principal prioritizing students and programs and the full-time CTE director.

“Mike Hassell is one person,” said Pendergast.

Supt. Carol Blanchette said a full-time coordinator would be responsible for working to connect all young students to CTE pathways.

“We need to start to feed and engage our kids so by the time they get to high school, they are ready for those programs,” Blanchette said.

The School Committee agreed that a full-time coordinator could also work on marketing the local CTE pathways, working both to keep students in the district and to lure out-of-district students to the four pathways certified by the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Bobola said the additional $10,000 is included in the CTE supplies line item, but he said he is still “refining” the budget.

Some major initiatives in the budget include spending $210,000 on English language arts textbooks in grades 2, 3 and 6. For technology, the district will spend $90,000 on the rollout of Chromebooks for students in grades 6-9, and to continue upgrades in grade 7, 8, 10 and 12 technology.

Bobola said by installing a new financial management software system, which will allow for in-house payroll, to replace to soon-to-be obsolete software being used, a $40,000 investment will be offset by a $25,000 savings in payroll costs.

In another effort to cut back on spending, Bobola said he has a consultant starting to go over bus routes and the number of students on buses to hopefully reduce the use of one or two buses.

“Every bus is $60,000, so if we can get down a couple buses, it’s really important,” Bobola said.