BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

Great Barrington                     Stockbridge                  West Stockbridge

SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING

Teleconference Meeting

April 16, 2020 – 6:00pm

Present:

School Committee:                 S. Bannon, D. Weston, B. Fields, D. Singer, A. Potter, A. Hutchinson, R. Dohoney,
J. St. Peter

Administration:                       P. Dillon, S. Harrison

Staff/Public:                             Eileen Mooney, T. Lee, B. Doren, K. Farina, Terry Cowgill, J. Jasiewicz, K. Burdsall

Absent:                                     M. Thomas, S. Stephen

RECORDER NOTE:  Meeting attended by recorder and minutes transcribed during the meeting and after the fact from live recording provided by CTSB.  Length of meeting:  1 hour, 00 minutes.

CALL TO ORDER

Chairman Steve Bannon called the meeting to order immediately at 6pm.

PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

The listing of agenda items are those reasonably anticipated by the chair, which may be discussed at the meeting. Not all items listed may in fact be discussed, and other items not listed may be brought up for discussion to the extent permitted by law. This meeting is being recorded by CTSB, Committee Recorder, members of the public with prior Chair permission and will be broadcast at a later date. Minutes will be transcribed and made public, as well as added to our website, www.bhrsd.org once approved.

Minutes:

  • April 2, 2020
  • April 9, 2020

MOTION TO APPROVE BHRSD SCHOOL COMMITTEE MINUTES DATED APRIL 2, 2020 AND APRIL 9, 2020            A. POTTER            SECONDED:  A. HUTCHINSON              ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS BY ROLL CALL

Superintendent’s Report:

  • FY19 Audit Review – John Jasiewicz – I am the manager that ran the audit. I have done it the past four years.  We started doing the Berkshire Hills audit in FY16.  Most of you have heard my spiel about what an audit does and doesn’t do.  Just to remind you, a common misconception of an audit is that we look at every single transaction and are able to review everything the district did.  That is just not possible.  We test based on a sample and we focus on the more material balances or the higher balances for the district.  In FY19 you had a $27 million general fund operating budget.  We base our testing off of certain percentages that by auditing standards are standard throughout the United States.  If you want to open up the financial statements to page 11 this is basically a one column, total summary of your general fund, all the special revenue funds, the grants, revolving, capital projects including the fixed assets and your debt and pension so basically a one column summary and kind of a snapshot of what the district did in FY19.  I know the main talking point that most people are interested in is right in the middle is the total OPEB liability which is $68 million.  Obviously this is the largest number on the balance sheet.  It is an estimation of a liability that over a period of time the district would have to pay out.  $68 million is one of the larger ones that I deal with.  We can talk about the OPEB if you have any questions about it.  At this time the district does not have any reserve set up to start funding for it which I know is something when possible, and we talked about it a bit last year, it would be in the district’s best interest to make an effort to start funding that.  You will see if you go down to the second to the last number, is your unrestricted net position which is -$63 million which is largely due to the OPEB liability.  It is the net pension of the $3 million and kind of offset by a receivable of $5 million for the MSBA.  On a scale, all of these numbers are fairly consistent with other school districts in Western Massachusetts.  The OPEB liability is pretty much every districts’ largest liability and it is what really drives the total net position.  The district had an undesignated for the general fund, a balance of just over $700,000.  This was just over 2.5% of your general fund operating budget.  In FY18 your excess and deficiency was over the 5% which required a return of funds to your member towns.  This was a fair amount lower.  Last year it was about $1.5 million which was a little high which caused the refund needing to be done.  The driving force behind it was first the amount of revenues you received over the budget was $132,000 which in FY18 it was about $258,000 so it was a little lower than the previous year and expenses were closed just under $60,000 which is really tight.  Expenses need to be made.  This is in the range I usually see and not too out of the ordinary.  Between a little lower revenues and tighter expenses and it looks like in FY20 there was an increased use of E&D, $840,000, so using that as a reserve drives down the undesignated fund balance.  My one thought is as you are continuing forward you have to be careful when keeping that much E&D.  The previous year was just under $500,000 so it is an increase of over $300,000 and you don’t want to get into a habit of using that much because it will end up running your undesignated was down and you won’t have as much E&D to use in future years.  It is a balancing act and I am sure you are well on top of that.  This is all fairly similar to the prior year.  There is still a fair amount of reserves.  Do you want me to go into more detail?  I know you look at these closely in your meetings.  Bannon – I think we are good.  J. Jasiewicz – Ok, I will move on to the management letter.  There wasn’t a whole lot to the management letter.  We had what ended up being four comments.  The first one was about school lunch, cash out procedures and these were really more suggestions for improvements.  It wasn’t that anyone was doing something wrong.  School lunch tends to be an area where there is actual cash coming in and out and it is just naturally one of those areas where funds tend to get misappropriated, whether it is a cashier or manager, etc.  We just had a couple of recommendations for added controls to help prevent anything happening.  The second one was about procurement and this one was probably the more concerning one.  We tested four transactions that should’ve had some sort of procurement compliances and none of the four did.  You can read through them but any large purchase needs to be going through the formal bid process.  I talked to Sharon about this and the vendor was a sole source.  There was no other company that could provide the services and we ask that in the future to do a write up saying you at least looked and this company is the only one that provides the service then that is perfectly fine.  The third one was for payroll and it was about getting the employment contracts signed by employees.  I have talked to Sharon probably every year about this one and I know her and the payroll staff make an effort.  They have documentation on what they are doing to try to get a hold of certain employees.  We random select 40 employees and it came back that 5 had not returned their signed contract.  Try to keep on it and do the best they can to get them back.  P. Dillon – is there a practice that other districts use to ensure compliance there?  John Jasiewicz – you legally can’t withhold their pay but I think some other districts try end of year meetings with staff or maybe try to push it down to a principal or somebody who is in the school with that person.  It is a challenge.  The last one was a few smaller things.  One was that we came out in October 2019 to do our field work and it looked like payroll warrants were only signed through June.  Obviously, this is a bigger issue these days but just try to make an effort to get those signed a little more timely.  S. Bannon – I have a question about the warrant.  Does the school committee designate one person to sign the warrants?  I know the town can.  Can the school district do that?  John Jasiewicz – yes you can definitely do that.  S. Bannon – we might want to do that as long as this pandemic lasts, that way one person can go to the school offices and we don’t have to expect the majority of the school committee to do the same.  John Jasiewicz – the second part was just updating the district’s manual.  The dollar thresholds were outdated.  Some places just reference the current legislation as opposed to specifically stating a dollar amount.  It will just say “in accordance with…” and that alleviates having to update that every time they decide to change the dollar value on procurements.  R. Dohoney – so the formal bid process if $50,000 correct?  John Jasiewicz – correct.  So the transactions you found were ones that required formal bid quotes?  John Jasiewicz – I think one of them was over the $500,000 but most were just the quotes.  Sharon is doing a nice job.  S. Harrison – I have been working with John on the issues he brought up.  Some of the things like the food services we have already taken care of.  We put in place and got them the stamps.  We will continue with the contracts.  Every year we just keep pushing people and started getting the union reps in to try to get them to help with that.  We just keep working.  B. Fields – how do we compare with other districts of our size in regards to the procedures we do and all of the things that you covered here? S. Harrison – John, just remind them that this is the first time in three years that we have had findings.   John Jasiewicz – that is true.   Most audits we have at least recommendations for improvements or we certainly have some districts that have much longer management letters than this.  S. Bannon – thank you John.  We appreciate it.
  • Request to Approve (BHEA Unit C Contract) – P. Dillon – Folks on the negotiating team did a really nice job. We sent around a memo detailing changes.  The highest level things were the secretaries were in the cooperative group.  They came into this group.  This was the first time we had to negotiate in the context of them.  There was a bit of combining language we had to do and I think our negotiating team and Laura and her group of people did a really nice job.  I think it is fairly straightforward.  I am happy to respond to any questions or anyone on the negotiating team could.  If it suits you, I would love a vote to approve it.  MOTION TO APPROVE THE BHEA UNIT C CONTRACT            DOHONEY              SECONDED:  B. FIELDS             ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS BY ROLL CALL
  • COVID-19 Update – P. Dillon – I would like each of the principals, starting with Tim, to give a brief update on what is happening. We have not talked instruction a lot and I think this is a good time to just share some quick updates on what teachers, kids and families are doing.
    • Tim Lee, Principal, Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School – we are in week two of our remote learning platform. We are calling it School @ Home.  It is based on the Google Classroom structure that we already had in place.  We had a lot of the tools and a number of our teachers already had quite a bit of familiarity with the platform itself.  We rolled it out officially on April 6th, last week was a bit of a test week making sure that families were connecting and students were able to find assignments and tasks and connect with their teachers virtually.  This week there have been all of the activities that we had last week plus with a number of our teachers more online virtual meetings in small groups and 1:1 and a few whole class meetings too.  The instruction that is happening currently is intended to take between 2.5 and 3 hours a day for students to complete.  We try to present learning opportunities in all of our subject areas, reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies.  It is spread out across the week.  Some grade level teams are doing it in an integrated project-based kind of way; others are providing discrete activities about specific subjects.  Our specialist teachers in art, music, library, technology and physical education created their own Google Classroom page as well so that when students log onto their particular profile through the portal they will be able to see the Google Classrooms that they have been invited to.  It is going pretty well so far.  I am pretty proud of it and grateful to our faculty and staff for all the work they have put into it.  Many have been incredibly innovative and creative to come up with activities that engage students and get them participating.  Our participation is based on about 85% right now for students participating regularly in the online learning platform.  I suspect it is a little bit higher but there are some families that we haven’t been able to connect with.  We still have a handful of students that have some technology gaps.  Most have devices now.  We have been able to distrutribut 70-75 devices to our families and kids but there are still some connectivity issues that exist and we hope to be able to help out with them.  I am really pleased with how remote learning is going at Muddy Brook thus far and I want to give another shout out to all of our faculty who have been working very hard to make it happen.  A special shout out as well to our technology teacher, Roger Burr.  He has taken a really superb leadership and professional development role throughout all of this.  The experience of our teachers  with the platform that we are using is varied so he has done a great job bringing teachers up to speed and assembling all of the Google Classrooms into one package that families have been able to access.  Thank you Roger.
    • Doren – Monument Valley Regional Middle School – I was impressed with what the elementary school has been doing and proud of what we have done as a district. We have been collaborating very well as an administrative team, trying to help each other and I am most appreciative of what we had going beforehand which was a strong team; principals, assistant principals, Kate giving strong support around students with disabilities, ESL and the like.  It has been a really strong team and part of the success at the middle school has to do with the way the team has been working together.  As Tim gave a big shoutout to his technology teacher, I would say for us our library and media specialist, Nancy Kane, has been a godsend and our IT team, Uli, Rob and Peter, have really allowed this success to happen.  I would love to share just how proud I am of our community.  When this happened the first week, I think we were all kind of in shock as to what to do but what was neat was as an administrative team we really launched into a response.  First, Sharon Harrison and Kathy Sullivan, organized food security and from my perspective, because we had the right approach which was about security, safety and health, I feel like a lot of successes that we have seen allowed families to flow so our immediate effort was finding all our families, making sure they could get food and if they couldn’t come and pick up food, delivering food to them.  By Tuesday after the closing we were already handing out food and Friday we were giving out bags and bags of food for the weekend.  That has continued.  One of the ways we were so successful I think in doing that was because of the way we had our team structure set up at the middle school and the way our clinical team has been set up to make connections with every kid and every family.  By the time enrichment started a week later, we already had everything set up in Google Classroom or our website, sending things out to kids and it really bought us several weeks of being able to design the remote learning platform and the learning experience through kids.  When we launched almost two weeks ago on April 6th, we already had a lot of kids chomping at the bit because they knew that there was going to be some interesting learning activities happening, and they wanted a lot more.  At that point we found almost all of our families and by Tuesday of last week, the second day that we had launched our official remote learning platform, we had found 99% of our families.  I think there were two families we hadn’t made a connection with.  That is really important because you have to make sure people are safe, secure, they have what they need before they can do anything.  Through last week we were not just able to connect with all of our families, but finding out who needed what.  Lots of families needed Chromebooks because they didn’t have connectivity and a lot of upper income families recognized that when they thought the MacBook at home was enough for the whole family, they realized getting a Chromebook for each kid was important.  We handed out over 130 devices to our students which is huge.  It was organized really well by Nancy Kane, Uli and Peter Robertson and Robert with the IT team.  It was really effortless in terms of getting the Chromebooks out.  Dom Sacco, our school adjustment counselor, is amazing.  He has gone far and wide across the county and even across state lines to a family that was staying with relatives to get devices out to families.  That has made a huge difference because now when teachers develop things in our Google Classroom or remote platform, kids can get connected.  Pretty immediately we made those connections.  We had teachers that were reaching out and doing video chats, three to four weeks ago and the formal way really allowed us to push that.  Our clinical team has done an amazing job as well as our clinician in reaching hard to find places and families; getting out to some of our most vulnerable families to make sure there is food and to make the human connection.  That helps because the way we have our team structure, Miles Wheat, my assistant principal and I have been meeting with the teams once a week throughout this entire time since the second week of the closure.  Creating that structure has really allowed up to talk about kids and families.  We found out which families are connected but didn’t have devices; which families were connected and had a device but the kid wasn’t active and the parent was like yeah yeah he’s doing his work, he tells me he’s doing his work but Johnny wasn’t doing his work.  We called up and said Johnny’s not doing his work and low and behold Johnny was doing his work the next day  The teachers feel really embolden by that because they feel their job is to engage kids and to do their work as teachers and they have the support of our clinical team and the administration to find and motivate the kids or really help kids who are in need of help vulnerable families.  We have been able to launch learning activities, we have lots of kids online at the same time doing interesting activities.  Teams are already pivoting about from what on earth are we doing to how are we doing team challenges, how are we getting kids together, etc.  We had a team meeting today and tomorrow they are going to invite all the kids to a video meeting and do a team challenge like they have done in the past so it feels normal.  We can still do things as a school community.  Those teams have all meeting meeting, the exploratory team, academic team, being essential that they teach every kid all the time, they really essentialize it down to about basically actions in all four grades which allows them to spend time as advisors with the kids as well as the teachers and not feel they have to teach 340 kids at a time.  They each have about 60-80 kids on their caseload, much like a typical general education teacher.  That has created a lot of good engagement with the exploratory team.  Our specialized programming, I am super proud of.  Our therapeutic learning center for our students with emotional behavior disabilities; that is one of the hardest things to do and we really activities not just the teaching team in that but our paraprofessionals who are already doing one-on-one sessions or small group sessions with kids.  Those kids really need that love that is why we call it TLC and they are doing their work, in some cases better than some of our middle and high income students because of the amount of connection we have made with those students.  The same way the ABC program, I am really impresses with the kids with the most severe disabilities, autism, multiple disabilities, in wheelchairs and non-communicative were involved with the families, kids who are scared and don’t have a context, we have teachers and interventionists as well as paraprofessionals working with the daily and creating really appropriate and also getting the kids connected to their general education activities.  We also have been meeting as a clinical team but also with our district clinical team so we are starting to share our best practices for reaching out to our families.  For me the coup de gras is really as much as this is crazy and frustrating to teachers. My teachers are sharing a lot of positive outcomes and they are feeling very upbeat about what we have done.  I feel that that is a kudos to Miles and myself as well as the support I have felt from my colleagues on the administrative team that we have been able to create something that feels constructive and positive in a pretty scary and unsettling time.  I think it speaks a lot to the team structure.
    • Farina – Monument Mountain Regional High School – You heard both when Tim and Ben described their structure that team was a central theme in terms of how the best to support students in this environment, and the high school is about a week behind in terms of rolling out in comparison to the elementary and middle school. That is because our daily structure is not built around teams; it is built around periods and students transitioning from one class to another and a very robust elective system structure within the school day.  That does not lend itself well to the online learning environment and providing the kind of one-on-one support that students really need to access their education in a way we felt was going to be meaningful and productive in this environment.  At the high school we took the approach of restructuring and it was a big lift.  We created two 9th grade teams, two 10th grade teams, two 11th grade teams; each of those teams has an english teacher, a social studies teacher, a science teacher, a math teacher and then a specialist so either an art teacher, CVTE teacher or PE teacher then a wellness person from the wellness department so that is either one of our guidance counsellors or clinician, school nurse.  Our liaisons are spread across the four grades.  This structure was intended to both shift delivery of the curriculum for students and provide each student with a mentor.  Every teacher has been assigned to a caseload of 11-16 students who they are mentoring through this process.  We rolled out the remote learning this week and the team structure at each grade level has been working on developing interdisciplinary projects for students.  Once we get really into this, the hold is those which span over the three-week period but for the first week, the teams developed weeklong projects.  It has been a challenge to communicate; it has been a challenge for students and families and for teachers to wrap all our heads around what this means.  In addition to the team structure, we are still running electives and all of this is being run through Google Classroom platform.  We have a team structure platform for our core academics and then students are still accessing their elective classes.  Their elective teachers are still posting work connected to those programs.  I think I have sat in on so many team meetings over the past two weeks, the teachers are really excited about it; they are working well together.  The percentage of students we have been able to connect with in this model has been pretty impressive.  I would say that we are 95% of engagement with students at the high school which is as high as it is for attendance for kids coming to school at the high school.  I think the teachers are doing a really great job.  I have been getting feedback on ways in which we need to improve and we are working hard at that.  We are looking at looking at discussion boards to have students from across the mentor groups meet with one another in content area discussions and we really want to provide a range of academic material for our students.  We are working hard at that.  The seniors are in a very very unique and very very challenging experience.  We have assigned a team of eight people who are working with that class holistically.  We are looking obviously at our students who have AP classes and what this means for them.  We have our students who are looking at what all this means in terms of shifting to college.  We have our students who really need some very one on one support in terms of earning their credits for graduation.  All of that is happening through this mentor relationship because we are trying to get all of these kids through so we can have them graduate.  Then there are all the questions they have about what this means for their final experience this year.  We are working hard to come up with some very special experiences that we can provide them even if we don’t end up back in the building.  We just don’t know where we stand with that.  As of right now, we know it is May 4th.  I am very proud of my entire faculty.  They have worked tremendously hard to lift this off the ground.  They are invested.  They want to do right by our students and they are working really hard to do that.  I couldn’t be prouder of every single one of them.  B. Fields – I was watching a PBS program on remote learning the other night and there was a principal from one of the high schools talking about how kids who were absent seemed to be more into this and they were more participatory than if they were required to go to the school itself.  I was wondering, Kristi, have you found that kids that were habitually absent have participated more in this load of learning than in the standard mode of having to go to the building.  K. Farina – I don’t feel I have enough data to answer that.  This is our first week of roll out so in a couple of weeks, I might be able to respond to this question differently.  What I do know is there are several of my teachers that are working with their students in these mentor relationships because they only have the 11-15 on their caseloads, they have been pleasantly surprised at their ability to get in touch with and have these one on one conversations with kids to work on engaging them on what we are providing them.  That is the first piece of information.  B. Doren – I can definitely chime in on that.  I do find that is true.  Not so much on the absentees.  I don’t think we had as much of an issue with that like the high school, but in terms of traditionally day to day in the school, who are not engaged, teachers have been very surprised with the engagement and productivity of a lot of those students and I think it has a lot to do with the modality that we are giving attention to students.  They are able to adapt to instruction and their learning need much more easily and we are finding that kids are more eager and more interested in doing the work who were not as engaged before.  It is one of the positive surprises from this.  A. Hutchinson – I think it is all very impressive as a parent.  P. Dillon – I would like to commend the teachers and the principals and everyone who is working hard on this.  It is a challenging time and this doesn’t work for everybody.  There are some folks who are overwhelmed and struggling with that and some folks are so hungry they want to write their dissertation tomorrow and on the other end of the continuum their needs aren’t fully being met.  We will keep making shifts and working through it.  I really appreciate everything folks are doing.  We expect to hear something from the governor’s office in the next week or so around what might happen with May 4th.  As soon as we hear that, I will share that.
  • Student Opportunity Act & Proposed Vote – P. Dillon – The Student Opportunity Act was an act that was supposed to drive more money towards schools and as a school that is seen as relatively well off, we got all of about $30,000. I put together a little plan.  The plan would be to invest that money in co-teaching which we have had some initial success with.  It is fairly straight-forward.  The plan is an obligation or a reporting requirement.  I wrote a little bit and ticked off some boxes.  It appears that with the impending financial challenges some of the student opportunity act money may dry up but regardless I have an obligation to share it with you to see if there is any feedback and then submit it to the state.  I assume everybody had a chance to look at it.  Do you have any questions or concerns about the proposed plan?  Steve, I think as a requirement of this, I need a vote to endorse the plan.  MOTION TO APPROVE THE STUDENT OPPORTUNITY ACT PLAN           DOHONEY               SECONDED:  B. FIELDS                ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS BY ROLL CALL VOTE
  • Other Updates – P. Dillon – as you know, Ben and his team did a lot of work around the Kaleidoscope Grant and as an outgrowth of that they were contacted and 34 Chromebooks are going to be donated to the middle school. That is a big deal.  Those could be valued at $500/$600 a piece so total value of $15,000 – $20,000.  We have a practice of accepting donations.  MOTION TO ACCEPT THE DONATION OF 34 CHROMEBOOKS            POTTER          SECONDED:  J. ST. PETER                      ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS BY ROLL CALL VOTE.  P. Dillon – the Jewish Federation has donated $1,000 to help our food program.  I would like to thank them for that.  MOTION TO ACCEPT $1,000 DONATION FROM THE JEWISH FEDERATION  – A. POTTER            SECONDED:  J. ST. PETER              ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS BY ROLL CALL VOTE.  P. Dillon – I have one last thing and I don’t think you need to vote on it.  I have super good news.  Sharon did some nice work with Amy Taylor from Berkshire Taconic and we were able to create a portal to accept additional donations for our food program through Berkshire Taconic Foundation.  If community members want to continue to support some of what we are doing for getting food to students and families they now have an opportunity to do that and Berkshire Taconic will serve as a pass through.  We will be sharing the information with folk tomorrow and there will be a link.  It is specifically this time for food and a possibility down the road if we end up doing more with remote learning that we might also accept donations for technology but at the moment we are just focused on food.

Business Operation:

Education News:

Old Business:

  • New Business:
    • Public Comment
    • Written Communication
    • Fields – I would like to ask a question about the bus contract since the buses are not running, what is the status. I see being on the finance sub-committee, is there going to a reopening of the contract?  From what I have been reading in other parts of the state, this has become an issue of whether or not there could be significant savings that could be applied to our budget.  P. Dillon – it is a good question and the whole state is discussing it.  We are in conversation through attorneys and the bus company and I will update you when I know more.
    • Mooney – what is happening with the Statement of Intent? P. Dillon – it is a Statement of Interest and it is due no later than May 6th.  I am working through one round of small edits and if the stars are aligned tomorrow, I will submit it tomorrow and if not, I will submit it on Tuesday.

MOTION TO ADJOURN – A. POTTER                SECONDED:  B. FIELDS                         ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS BY ROLL CALL

Meeting Adjourned at 7:00pm

Submitted by:

Christine M. Kelly, Recorder

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Christine M. Kelly, Recorder

 

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School Committee Secretary