School Committee approves budget, talks new preschool program at Decas School

Dec 16, 2021

The School Committee approved a $32,076,796 budget at its Dec. 15 meeting, including a notable new source of revenue: new preschool classes to be held at the Decas School after current students move to the new Wareham Elementary School.

Superintendent Kimberly Shaver-Hood emphasized that the preschool plans don’t preclude using the rest of the building for a community center. 

The preschool program is, in part, designed to help bring in revenue to allow the district to maintain its current staff levels.

Historically, Shaver-Hood said, the district hasn’t had space to expand the program. In Decas, the preschool could educate up to “a couple hundred students,” said Geoff Swett, a School Committee member who participated in the budget process. Swett said that the preschool program could potentially begin before the end of the current school year.

“We firmly believe in providing a very rigorous preschool program as it provides a strong foundation,” Shaver-Hood said.

Currently, the district’s preschool classes include special education students with other “peer model” students. The parents of peer model students pay tuition, but can receive a reduced rate based on need. The number of peer model students is limited and based on the population of special education students.

The current preschool program will be moved into the new Wareham Elementary School as previously planned. 

Officials said keeping Decas in use as a school building will bring other savings, too: The town won’t have to pay back $800,000 contributed by the state for new boilers and roof repairs at the Decas School. And the town will avoid the hefty insurance fees associated with vacant properties.

The school’s budget includes $2 million in federal covid relief funds. The school will have an equal amount of those funds next year — but in the 2024 Fiscal Year, those funds will dry up, leaving the district with a potential $2 million deficit.

Shaver-Hood said that, keeping that financial deadline in mind, the district will seriously evaluate whether it is necessary to replace the positions of employees who retire or quit. She said that the covid relief funds currently fund about 22 staff positions. 

Swett said that the staff members being funded by the covid relief money will need to be informed that that is the case. Swett said that those staff members are not guaranteed to lose their jobs in two years, but should be aware that it is a possibility.

The current year’s budget may necessitate removing five staff positions, Shaver-Hood said, but she emphasized that there is still plenty of time for movement in the budget, and said that the district will do everything possible to maintain staffing levels.

Notably, there will be no changes to which students have access to transportation. The district will be auditing the transportation department to ensure it is running efficiently.

The town still needs to agree to fund its part of the budget — a four percent increase over last year’s contribution.