School Committee Meeting Minutes 11/02/2020

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Farmington River School District

Farmington River Elementary School

555 North Main Road

Via Zoom

Monday November 2, 2020, 7:00 PM

Meeting # 393


Community Participation:


Warrants:  All signed


Members Present:  All attending


Guests:  See attached list


Meeting called to order by Jess Drenga at 7:02 PM


  1. Approval of minutes #391-#392: This has been tabled.  Teresa will go back and double check minute meeting numbers for clarity.


  1. Principal/Superintendent updates: MCAS is still scheduled to take place per the Commissioner.  Waivers will not be issued by the Government.  The Commissioner said expect some form of MCAS testing will be done.  There are obstacles such as remote learners.  How will they take the tests?  Jennifer Hibbins heard that the state wants to do a baseline to see how schools are handling the school year and to see where the students are at.  Tom said that there is a regression of Math but not in ELA with our students.  Tom did ask all staff to survey to see how the remote learning is going.  He wants to know the student’s attendance, if they are participating in ZOOM and how much work they are handing in.


Eric purchased air purifiers for each classroom for better air exchange.  This purchase was done with the intention of windows being shut for cold weather that is now upon us.  The guideline per state is air exchange 4-6 times an hour.  The purifiers that we purchased have an air exchange of 5 times per hour.


Intramurals will be happening after school, but in limited numbers.  Chess club and band will continue as well in a social distancing setting.


The Commissioner stated that all students 5 and up need to wear a mask.  Schools are exempt to that statement.  Farmington River will not be changing their procedures of mask wearing.  Students need a mask unless they have a doctor’s note stating otherwise.

Jennifer asked about mask wearing on the bus.  Tom did mention a Sandisfield student got on the bus without a mask and was covering his/her face with their jackets.  He does not know why or how this has happened.  The bus drivers are supposed to be monitoring who is entering with/without a mask.  Parents are to make sure their children have masks on before entering the bus.  Dufour was called and Tom spoke to the manager about this situation.  The School did provide disposable masks for all the buses and vans we use.


Carol was asking Tom if he was concerned about the Governor wanting to close the state.  Tom said in the Commissioner’s meeting, the Governor does not want to close schools down.  They will be the last to close.  Schools are not COVID spreading areas per the state.


Jennifer asked about the Thanksgiving break.  She is concerned about families spending time with extended relatives and friends, should we shut down for the week after the holiday as a precaution?  Tom stated that the Commissioner was very clear that if any district’s area is either green or yellow, an audit will be down in those areas to see why they are not in school.  Jennifer suggested a letter going home to all parents asking them not to have or attend large family gatherings so that the school can stay safe and open.  Tom will look into this, but also does not want to tell the parents what to do.  He mentioned a generic reminder of what the Governor is suggesting.


Jess Drenga asked how the Teachers are handling the situation this year?  Do we have enough coverage?  Tom did mention our sub pool is limited, but Teresa manages to handle all the coverages that are needed by switching people around.  Admin also fills in for lunch/recess duties when numbers are short.  People are leery about coming in during this time.


Roger Kohler asked Eric Jesner if it was recommended to buy the air purifiers or if the School just purchased them.  Eric reminded Roger of the conversation in the summer with Roger and the Health Inspector from Otis about the air exchange of the School.  Eric attended a MASBO meeting that had a Harvard Professor speak about air quality.  He talked about the air exchange needs to be done at least 5 times an hour.  Eric purchased 40 units for approximately $5000, which is coming out of the COVID reopening grant funds that must be used by December 31, 2020.  Carol asked if we are ok with supplies, Eric said we are fine right now, but anything can change.


Jennifer asked if we are going to discuss the Wellness Policy and vote on it.  Tom stated that is on next month’s agenda.


  1. Discuss FY22 budget: Jennifer wanted to discuss the 5-year calculation of assessment again, rather than the 3-year calculation that we have been using since the School has opened.  Carol Lombardo reminded Jennifer that the Selectmen from Sandisfield nor Otis were not interested in changing the formula.  Terry Gould spoke and stated that the historical data concerning the regionalization, the state recommended the 3-year formula because there were only 2 towns involved.  The state thought it was safer and better to use that formula, not to favor one town over the other.  Jennifer thought it might be good to continue to investigate this or look into other avenues to lower the costs for Sandisfield.  The residents are saying this budget is unattainable.  The number of students is increasing in Sandisfield, so the assessment keeps going up.  Jennifer would like to look into cutting costs in other areas, such as combining classes.  Arlene Tolopko asked Eric if Baker is going to increase the budget allocation?  Eric said that Governor Baker did post suggestions for our current fiscal year.  It looks as if we have a $14,000 reduction in our state funding.  The School Committee voted an extra $100,000 of E&D for this year’s budget for large cuts.  The large cuts do not look as if that is going to happen. The money can now be carried forward for next year’s budget.  We are not going to get more money, but the cuts will not be as large as expected.  This is Governor Baker’s plan; it still must go through 2 houses of state government to be approved.


Jess feels that with the amount of people moving into Berkshire County it is dangerous eliminating a teaching position.  Terry Gould agrees fully. She mentioned that it is our duty to educate our children.  There is no way to eliminate what is existing already. She feels that Sandisfield is worried about it and is putting everything on the back of the School, and part of the problem of the two town’s is that Otis believes in educating their children, that is their duty.  The rest of the town needs to figure out what else needs to be cut.  Terry encourages Sandisfield should be doing the same thing and stop butting it on the back of the School.


Tom has worked in a school system with combined classrooms and it does not work.  The issue is you are always teaching 2 curriculum’s and 2 standards at the same time.  Multi age classrooms are different.  It was told a long time ago do not group kids by ability.  As far as staff goes, there is only one teacher per classroom, our music, gym, and art teachers are parttime.  Right now, especially.  The teachers are working double time.  They are working hard and putting in extra time due to remote and in person learning.  Jess mentioned that when someone is out and there is not a sub to come in, it must be hard.  Tom agreed, but we are so small, everyone pitches in to cover what is needed.  Tom, Mike, Neesha and Teresa cover what is needed to make the school day work.  Everyone is flexible in helping to make a safe environment for the students.


Carol brought up that a few years back the School Committee did seek out to other schools on job sharing.  There was no benefit to Farmington River to combine with other schools.  A lot of time and energy went into this option to reduce costs.


Jennifer feels the School Committee should begin to look to the future of where we will want our kids to go if we get absorbed by a bigger district.  Jess stated that is what the School Committee did.  Tom mentioned that the costs seem to work in the favor of the towns.  If merging, the towns would have to pay a higher transportation expense, a higher special education expense, even maintenance expenses.  Your money is not for just your small town, it goes towards the entire district.  So, joining another district takes a lot of thought.  Once you join another district, you lose control over your school.  The new district may have your towns going to schools you do not want to go to, whether it is Southern Berkshire, Berkshire Hills, or Lee, you are told where you are attending.  Plus, the School Loan for the building is paid off, that is one less expense to pay.  Roger Kohler stated that Sandisfield already feels as if they lost control of the school.  Roger hopes that we can keep our kids in district and get school choice students coming in.  Jess reminded Roger that the only reason we stopped school choice in this year is because of the numbers that Sandisfield and Otis have at this time.  Because of COVID, many guidelines need to be met such as social distancing.  We needed to make sure our district’s students have the space they need to be safe.  Jen and Roger would like a survey of why students are choicing out.  Eric brought up the fact that school choicing out for middle and high school students is cost effective for us because it is cheaper than going to our tuitioned schools.  SPED services are a different story.  Terry Gould did bring up the point that we must have an agreement no matter what because if we do not and the school does not have room for the student, where do they go?  Tom also stated that DESE requires a tuition agreement with someone.  Eric brought up it is better to have more than one district tuitioned because if there is only one district, they can go up on the costs at any time and there is nothing we can do about that.  Terry Gould brought up the reason for the regionalization for Sandisfield was they were going to Granville School District and it was a rough ride for the students.  Roger brought up have the school keep the students longer, until 8th grade.  This is hard because the transitioning with the other schools is 7th grade.  So, the students may find it harder to transition and there is not enough room to add on 2 more classrooms.


  1. Vote on FY20 Regional Transportation Revolving Transfer: Eric finished up with the auditors.  Eric is asking if the School Committee could vote on his recommendation of moving an additional $100,000 into Regional Transportation.  This is in addition to the $188,000 that was approved in the prior meeting.  This will maximize our E&D and our state funds, and it will help us reduce the assessments.  By doing this transfer, the state money we get at the end of this year can be rolled over to FY22 and help with the budget.  This should continue and roll from year to year.  Roger motioned to transfer $100,000 out of the General fund into the Regional Transportation Fund.  Billie Pachulski seconded the motion.  The vote was unanimous.


  1. Financial Update: Eric just wanted the School Committee to lookover the journal entries that he made.  The auditors suggested that Eric keeps the Committee up to date with this work.  Any questions please contact Eric.  Carol asked what the plans are for next year on work around the school.  Tom is in the process of getting quotes on fixing the guest parking lot and the driveway and sidewalks.


  1. Adjournment: Carol Lombardo motioned to adjourn; Billie Pachulski seconded the motion.  The vote was unanimous to adjourn Meeting #393 at 9:09 PM



Respectfully submitted,



Teresa DellaGiustina, School Committee Secretary