Thursday, June 7, 2018

Final Proposed FY 19 School Budget Update

Good afternoon everyone.  I hope all of you are well and enjoying some of the beautiful weather that our great state has thrown at us lately.  Certainly signs that summer is not too far away as I'm sure your students have been telling you for weeks!

I am reaching out to give you all an overview of where we currently stand with our proposed FY 19 School Budget so that you have the most up to date and factual information possible to help inform your decision making when you go to the polls on June 12 (notice I said "when" and not "if"! 😊).

Our proposed budget was approved by the School Committee on April 11, 2018 by a vote of 6-1.  The proposed budget was then sent to the Town Council on June 5, 2018 for approval.  At this meeting, the Town Council voted to reduce our overall expenditures by $346,000.00 and to accept a change in our revenues that increased by $392,00.00.  The overall impact of the vote by the Town Council was a reduction to taxpayer expense (from the originally proposed budget) of $738,000.00.  In order to account for the reductions to expenditures made by the Town Council, the School Committee reduced the following items from our originally proposed budget:


  • Van for Special Ed
  • Oil Tank
  • Gym Curtains
  • Nar. Bathroom
  • GMS Walkway
  • 3 Additional Buses
  • GMS Math textbooks
  • Gr. 1-3 Chromebooks
  • Paper Purchases
  • Legal Counsel
  • Staff Tuition Reimbursements
  • Staff Professional Development
  • Substitute Teacher Lines

As I hope you can see from this list, this means we were able to accommodate for the changes made to our budget WITHOUT REDUCTING ANY STAFF POSITIONS that were in the originally proposed budget.  That originally proposed budget actually included some needed additions to our staffing such as an increase of a half time school licensed nurse, the increase of 3 elementary teaching positions, the increase of part time English and Social Studies positions at GHS, and the increase of a 504 strategist position and Assistant Special Ed. Director position.

The summary figures for the finally approved budget then are:

*  Expenditures are up by 3.51% or $1.3 million
*  Revenues are down by 4.7% or $900,000.00
*  Local Appropriation Need (taxpayer expense) is up by $2.15 million from last year or 9.18%
*  The COMBINED school and town budget increases to the mil rate are up by $1.29 or 7.5%

You can view a "infographic" on the proposed budget by CLICKING HERE.  You can also get more detailed information by going to our district website, clicking on "School Committee" under about us, and then going to the budget information page from there.

Overall, the budget that was approved by the Town Council allows us to adjust to meet the needs of our growing student population while doing its best to balance those needs with the needs of the taxpayers who support us.  We feel confident that we can operate the programs necessary for our students with the funds provided in this proposed budget for FY 19.

That being said, I want to take one more chance to remind folks to GO VOTE on June 12th!  The budget that was approved by the Town Council MUST BE VALIDATED by a majority of voters on June 12th or the budget is not finally approved and we would need to do this all again.  Please make sure your voice is heard!

Any questions - just ask (my email address is heather.perry@gorhamschools.org)!  Thank you!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

What to Expect for Communications In the Event of An Emergency

There is no doubt that the increase in school-related violence seems to be a troubling trend at the national level and even though some of the recent tragedies seem so far away, in my mind (as I'm sure in your mind too) they seem way too close to home!  

The Gorham Schools has worked diligently over the past several years to create an Emergency Response Plan and to communicate that plan effectively to our staff and local first responders.  We have developed close relationships with our local Police and Fire departments, and we have focused a great deal of energy over this past year and a half in strengthening our already strong response plans.  Just this past weekend we worked collaboratively with the Gorham PD and Fire Department as well as Cumberland County first responders to conduct a full-scale active shooter training at Gorham High School.  It was one of the most intense learning experiences I have ever had as an educational leader!  We learned so much just during this one day exercise and we are so very thankful to our local first responders and staff/student volunteers who participated.

During this drill, it became obvious to me that one of the largest pieces that a school must deal with in an emergency situation such as this (other than following our lockdown & other protocols to keep students as safe as possible) is in the area of communications with parents.  For example, I know that as a parent, if I were to get an emergency message from the school letting me know that there was a emergency situation occurring the very first thing I would want to do would be to rush to the scene and get my child!  I am suspecting, in fact,  that it would take armed guards to prevent me from doing so!  Problem with that fictional scenario is that this is likely to be exactly what you would NOT want to do because police would not let you anywhere near the scene and by going there, you would be detracting capacity from our emergency responders who could otherwise be addressing the emergency itself.  So please, if there is an actual lockdown situation at one of our schools, do not go to the school.  Instead, wait for further instructions from the school department.

As parents, I know that you need to know what to expect and how best to support your child/children if such an emergency were to occur.  Of course, NONE OF US wants these types of events to occur here in the Gorham Schools, but the fact of the matter is that even though we work hard to build and maintain positive learning environments for our students - our schools are no different than those that have already experienced these tragedies.  We must be prepared.

Please understand that I can't give you details for locations of reunification spots, or details on specifically how we would respond to emergencies because that information is confidential and information we only want to be communicating with local law enforcement.  However, what I can share with you is what types of communication you can expect, how often, and using what methodologies so that we are all better prepared to respond if we have to.

First and foremost, please know that there are times that our schools go into lockdowns or soft lockdowns, or when evacuations take place for reasons other than a true emergency.  Schools must practice fire evacuations 8 times per year.  We also must practice lockdowns a minimum of 2 times per year.  Additionally, schools may conduct a soft lockdown when something is occurring outside our buildings that we are unsure of, but things that do not yet rise to the level of a true emergency.  These circumstances are often precautionary in nature and are not actual emergencies.  We also have had times when our "panic buttons" have accidentally been pressed, sending a school into a lockdown.  In these non-emergency situations, we typically will send information to parents via our automated email and text system so that you are aware something occurred and so that we can give you any other pertinent information.  We would typically send these messages out when we first became aware of the situation (or as close as possible to when we became aware), and would then send updates roughly every 30 minutes until we could send a final message saying that the issue has been resolved.  Again, all of this information would be shared via our automated messaging system in the form of email or text.

In the event of a true emergency situation in one of our schools, we would:

  • Send an automated phone message, email and text notification to all contacts associated with each student.  
  • The recorded message would let parents know in general terms what is happening and inform parents about what they shoul dod and where they can go to get more information and to pick up students in an orderly and non-disruptive manner.
  • This phone message would be repeated at least every 30 minutes and possibly more as new information becomes available.
  • Once emergency situation has ended, a final automated phone, email and text would be sent out to all contacts providing a summary of what occurred and reminding parents about procedures on how to pick up students.
  • After the final automated phone call, other follow up communications will be sent out via email and text.  
  • Messages would likely continue over the course of the next several days following any emergency situation that would contain information about how we are responding as a school and resources that you should be aware of as parents to assist students and others in recovering from the emergency situation.

Again, none of us wants to think about these issues and what could happen.  They are scary for me to think about and I do not have children in the school system directly - even though I kinda think of all the children of Gorham as "my children" (but that is for another post)! ☺ 

Please know that the Gorham Schools takes great pride in our overall positive and inclusive educational environments.  We work hard to create them and maintain them.  In fact, we regularly score 6-7 points higher than the state average on school climate-related questions from our Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS - a survey completed annually by middle and high school students from across the state).  We also take great pride in being prepared for emergency situations and in communicating effectively with our parents.  I hope this message has helped you to better understand what you can expect as as parent for communications in the event of a true emergency.  If you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me (heather.perry@gorhamschools.org).  If I can answer them, I will.


Thank you!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

FY 19 School Budget Update

Good morning! I thought I would share with you a copy of the transmittal letter that was sent by the Gorham School Committee to the Town Council along with the proposed FY 19 Gorham School Budget. This letter provides a succinct overview of the proposed FY 19 School Budget for those that might be interested in the "cliff notes" version of information!

A link to the full budget document is at the bottom of the page. Here's the letter:

April 19, 2018

To:  Ephrem Paraschak, Town Manager & Members of the Gorham Town Council
From:  Darryl Wright, Chair, Gorham School Committee
Re:  FY 19 School Department Budget

Dear Mr. Paraschak & Town Council Members,

Enclosed and submitted for your review and consideration is the FY 19 School Department Budget that was approved by the School Committee on April 11, 2018 by a vote of 6-1.

This has been yet another challenging budget development year for the Gorham School Department.  While we work to address the needs of our growing student populations, we are simultaneously seeing our state subsidy go down significantly due to our increasing property values and the state’s increase in the minimum mil expectation.  

On the expenditure side of the budget, there are three key factors influencing our FY 19 proposed budget.  Those are (1) maintaining costs associated with existing staff, (2) addressing the needs of our increasing student populations - especially at grades K-5, and (3) addressing the needs of our struggling learners through special education and other required student support services.  

The cost to simply maintain our existing staff is approximately $920,000.00.  This is due mostly to contracted salary increases (2.0% plus steps, GTA, 2.5% no steps Admin., 2.5% no steps Central Office Support, and two contracts that are still in negotiations - MBCC & SAA) as well as increases to health insurance (9%).  In terms of our student populations, we are anticipating an increase of 77 students across grades K-12, but an increase of 96 students in just grades K-5. This has caused us to have to add 3 more K-5 classroom teachers and to add 2 portable classroom spaces (1 at GHS and 1 at Village Elem.).  Our special education populations have grown from 342 students in 2010-11 (when we had a Director and an Assistant Director) to 355 students in 2017-18. Our numbers of students in 504 have grown from just 43 in 2010-11 to 121 in 2017-18, and our Gifted and Talented student population has also increased from 250 in 2010-11 to 319 in 2017-18.

Our per pupil expenditures (which are 12th out of 13 Cumberland County School Systems) were $13,811.00 per pupil in FY 18.  If you add 77 students and multiply that times that per pupil amount you would expect an increase in the budget (with no other changes) of $1,063,447.00.  The total projected increase in the budget for FY 19 is $1,666,912.00. The difference between these two figures is $603,465.00. This would be an increase of just 1.6% due to CPI.  To us, this demonstrates that the problem with the FY 19 budget is NOT an expenditure problem, but a revenue problem.

On the revenue side of the budget, our challenges are significant.  All told, Gorham is losing $1,282,170.00 in state subsidy in just one year!  This loss of state subsidy is due mainly to things that are far outside of the School Department’s control.  There are two key factors contributing to our loss of subsidy: (1) The increase of the minimum mil expectation, as set by the state annually, from 8.19 mils to 8.51 mils.  This is the amount the state requires us to contribute locally in order to receive state subsidy dollars. (2) The increase of Gorham’s state property values by 6% between FY 18 and FY 19.  

State property values are used by the State within the EPS funding formula to determine a community’s ability to pay for public education.  As your property values go up, the state believes you can contribute more locally to fund public education. The increase in the min. mil expectation from 8.19 to 8.51 resulted in a loss of just over $500,000.00 in state subsidy.  The difference between this figure and the total loss of $1,282,170.00 is primarily due to Gorham’s overall increase in state property values. In effect - a “double-whammy” for sure.

The School Committee, in consultation with the District Leadership Team, spent 5 grueling meetings (one full day Saturday) reviewing and analyzing our proposed FY 19 budget in great detail.  Between both groups, we either deflected or cut almost $1.3 million dollars from the Superintendent’s original proposals.

This proposed budget totals $39,288,505 and represents a 4.43% increase in expenditures over the final approved FY 18 Budget of $37,621,593.  This budget requires a 16.12% increase in the local appropriation. Assuming General Purpose Aid (GPA) is finalized at the proposed level, and the actual FY 18 property tax increases by a little over  $30 million in FY 19, the impact of this budget on the mil rate is an increase of 13.96% or $1.55 on the mil. In review of the FY 19 budget summary page in the booklet you will see the increase in the local appropriation is $2,887,024.

During the past year, the School Department has continued to review all programs, personnel, facilities, and attendant infrastructure to assess their utility and their value in advancement of a high quality, comprehensive educational program for all our students.  The School Department began a study of its K-5 school configurations this past spring, which resulted in a 40 page report distributed to the School Committee in November, 2017. The School Committee has worked on this report and determined that it needs to do additional study so that it may form a long term plan for our K-5 schools, which would inform how we want our schools to be configured in both the short and long term.  The School Committee has commissioned a demographic study as well as a long range facilities planning study for our K-5 schools that we hope will inform this long range plan. Those studies will be completed in Fall of 2018.

With a dramatically shifting landscape at the state and local level, with our continued increasing enrollments, and with our need to maintain our aging facilities, the Gorham School Committee voted 6-1 to bring forward the proposed FY 19 budget to the Town Council.  We believe it represents the funds necessary to continue to support the high quality educational services we strive to provide for our community’s most precious resource - its children.

We look forward to the joint TC/SC FY 19 Budget Workshop scheduled for May 15th, 2018.  In the interim, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Finance Officer, Hollis Cobb and/or Superintendent, Heather Perry.

Thank you,

Darryl Wright, SC Chair

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Information for Gorham Parents Regarding Bullying

Good morning everyone.  I hope you all are well and enjoying what seems to be (knock on wood) the beginning of some spring weather here in Gorham!  With weather being mentioned, and as a quick follow up to my last blog post - I did want to update parents that as of right now, we have used 8 snow days here in Gorham and the last student day will be June 19 barring any other potential school closings.  June 19th will be an early release day for students.

With that important update out of the way - I wanted to take a minute to address a difficult topic that is much more complex than the term itself can ever communicate - the issue of bullying.  I want to be upfront in letting all of you know that the purpose of this communication is not to try and say that bullying does not occur in the Gorham Schools.  Bullying can occur in any setting where children group together.  These settings can be in community locations like recreation department activities, they can be in schools, they can be on buses, and they can be online and just about everywhere in between.  Bullying is a community-wide issue that absolutely impacts schools and many other locations & activities within our community.

The Gorham Schools deal with issues related to bullying on a monthly if not weekly basis.  So far this year, our schools have received 23 bullying complaints, of which, after complete investigations by school administration, 15 were confirmed cases of bullying and were treated as such while another 8 were not confirmed.  These figures are accurate up through March as compared to full-year data from 2016-17 that showed 21 reports of bullying across the district with 12 of them being confirmed as bullying.  I share this not because I think these are "good" numbers because even one case of bullying in our schools is too many cases.  I share this because I want parents to know that not every instance of bullying that is reported is indeed bullying and because I want parents to know that when reported, we do investigate each report and once facts from all sides have been gathered, we then respond to each reported case.

It is difficult to talk about the issue of bullying for lots of different reasons.  Here are a few of the ones I find most difficult:

1.  Bullying is a term that is often overused and unclear, and many people don't know exactly what it means,
2.  Bullying, even when it is found to have occurred is almost never a "black and white" issue with clear lines of delineation between the "victim" and the "bully", and
3.  Communication is difficult on this issue, especially from schools where rules of confidentiality are paramount.

In order to assist with addressing the first problem, I thought it might be helpful to try and be more clear about what bullying is according to the definitions contained within our school policies.  I also thought it might be informative for me to describe how the schools respond to a report of bullying using our policies and procedures so that parents can see the steps that are typically taken by our schools regarding reporting, investigation, and discipline.  Finally, I wanted to end this post by providing an overview to parents on where we tend to spend most of our energy here in Gorham - prevention.  Let's start with our policy definition of bullying first.  Here goes!

The two policies for the Gorham Schools that deal with bullying are policies JICK - Bullying, and Policy JICK-R - Bullying Procedures.  I have provided hyperlinks to both so that you can review them in more detail if you are interested.   The most informative one for parents is likely the JICK-R Bullying procedures policy.  In this policy bullying is defined as:


“Bullying” includes, but is not limited to a written, oral or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof directed at a student or students that:

A.  Has, or a reasonable person would expect it to have, the effect of:


1.  Physically harming a student or damaging a student's property; or

2.  Placing a student in reasonable fear of physical harm or damage to his/her property; or

B.  Interferes with the rights of a student by:

1.  Creating an intimidating or hostile educational environment for the student; or
2.  Interfering with the student's academic performance or ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges provided by the school; or

C.  Is based on:


1.  A student's actual or perceived characteristics identified in 5 MRSA ss 4602 or 4684-A (including race; color; ancestry; national origin; sex; sexual orientation; gender identity or expression; religion; physical or mental disability or other distinguishing personal characteristics ( such as socioeconomic status; age; physical appearance; weight; or family status); or

2.  A student's association with a person with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics or any other distinguishing characteristics; and that has the effect described in subparagraph A. or B. above.

As you can see, this is a pretty lengthy definition.  It is also important to note a separate section in the policy that makes it clear that bullying can occur either in person (with physical proximity), or it also may occur online by what is commonly known as cyberbullying.  It is also important to note that because of "Section B"'s portion of the definition, issues that may occur outside of school often may still be investigated by the school as potential bullying behaviors because they may still have an impact on how a student feels while at school.  Because of that effect, these circumstances are now also considered instances of bullying that if reported, the school must investigate.


It is equally important to note that not every "mean" behavior is to be considered bullying.  The threshold for bullying is really created by taking the three aspects of the definition together with how the reported "victim" perceives these acts to impact them in order to meet the definition of bullying.  As I hope you can see, this is definitely not a "black and white" rule that can be interpreted the same way for each individual circumstance.  


What can be applied the same way to each individual circumstance, however, is the processes we use to report and investigate these complaints.  This is where our policies come into play.  The Gorham Schools have policies JICK, JICK-R, JICK-E1, JICK-E2 and JICK-E3 that guide our work in this area.  Although the specific paperwork associated with these procedures may differ slightly, the steps are all consistent.  Here is a summary of the step by step process that occurs at all Gorham Schools whenever a report of bullying is received:

Step 1:  A bullying report is filed (JICK-E1).  This can be reported verbally or in writing.  If reported verbally, the administrator who completes the investigation will reduce the report to writing so that there is a written log of a report being filed.  ANYONE can report an issue of bullying.  The "victim" can report, another student can report, a parent/guardian can report, a staff member can report, and even anonymous reports are accepted by school administration.  Any school staff who may witness bullying are required by law to file a report.  


Step 2:  The report is given to school administrators who are required to conduct an investigation of the report. Schools use the same format for documentation of the investigation as can be found on form JICK-E2, however some schools have digitized the process so a paper form is not utilized, but rather a google form, or other digital record keeping tool.


Step 3:  After completion of the investigation, the administration makes a determination as to whether the report of bullying is substantiated or not (JICK & JICK-R form the basis for this determination).  This determination is communicated to both the alleged "target" and their family as well as to the alleged "bully" and their family.  If the report of bullying is substantiated, the administration will also determine any measures that are taken to ensure the safety of the "target" and also communicates those measures to the "target" and their family.  Finally, if the report of bullying is substantiated, the administration will determine what consequences are most appropriate for the "bully" and communicates those to the "bully" and their family.  This communication is done using form JICK-E3, although once again, some schools have digitized this process so the form this information takes may look a little different.


Step 4:  At the conclusion of the process, a copy of all completed forms, regardless of determination, is sent to the Superintendent's office for review and reporting to the Maine Department of Education.


It is important to note that throughout this process, school administration works diligently to ensure the confidentiality of information for all students that may be involved.  We communicate with the families and students directly involved as required by policy, but we cannot communicate information about student behavior more broadly.  This is the reason why when a circumstance of alleged bullying comes up in the media, schools are not allowed to make comments beyond explaining general processes and procedures that are used to address bullying behaviors.  The confidentiality of student information remains paramount throughout the process.


This brings me to the final part of this blog post, and where the Gorham Schools tends to place much of its focus regarding the issue of bullying in our schools - prevention.  There is no single method or "pancea" that can be used to prevent bullying.  Although I wish this were possible, it simply is not.  Instead, the Gorham Schools provide a multitude of programs and staffing aimed at prevention of bullying.  Much of this work begins with our emphasis on the Student Code of Conduct:


RESPECT:  A person who is respectful of oneself, others and the environment
Does Not. . .
Does. . .
·       Verbally abuse self or others.
·       Physically abuse self or others.
·       Cause damage to property.
·       Demonstrate polite and appropriate interactions with others.
·       Value themselves and others.
·       Care for surroundings.

HONESTY:  A person who is honest in all endeavors
Does Not. . .
Does. . .
·       Plagiarize the work of others.
·       Engage in deceptive, blaming or sneaky behavior
·       Take the property of others.
·       Seek to tell the truth.
·       Accepts ownership and responsibility for actions and work.
·       Maintain trust in all relationships

COURAGE:  A person who is courageous in the face of ethical challenges
Does Not. . .
Does. . .
·       Submit to peer pressure.
·       Avoid challenges.
·       Sacrifice aspirations when confronted by setbacks

·       Stand up for what is right, even when unpopular.
·       Take appropriate risks.
·       Seek advice when making difficult decisions.

COMPASSION:  A person who is compassionate
Does Not. . .
Does. . .
·       Ignore another’s pain, suffering or needs.
·       Hurt other’s feelings
·       Take advantage of others
·       Show empathy by being sensitive to the perspectives, needs and feelings of others.
·       Care about others and help them.
·       Reach out to those in need.

RESPONSIBILITY:  A person who is responsible as an individual and as a member of a community
Does Not. . .
Does. . .
·       Project blame on others.
·       Exploit others
·       Ignore assumed duties or neglect obligations
·       Demonstrate accountability for personal behavior.
·       Take initiative to do the things that are expected.
·       Follow through with commitments.


This code of conduct is used across all our schools K-12.  It creates a common language and a common set of expectations for student behaviors in all our schools.  We celebrate it when we see it being demonstrated, and we are clear with students when it is not.  This "Code" forms the foundation of our prevention work and can be seen in just about everything that we do with students.

Additionally, we have specific staffing and programs at each grade level that also focus on prevention:


K-5:

-  Second Step Curriculum (delivered to grades K-5)
-  Guidance Counselors who work with large group instruction, and small group social/emotional learning environments.
-  Structured recesses
-  Social Workers who work with small groups and individual students in the area of social/emotional learning.
-  School Resource Officer (Officer Coffin) who works with large groups, small groups, and individual students on this and many other topics.
-  School-based Student Civil Rights Teams
-  Various school-wide assemblies.
-  Our incredibly talented teaching and administrative teams

6-8:

-  Guidance Counselors who work with large group instruction, and small group social/emotional learning environments.
-  Social Workers who work with small groups and individual students in the area of social/emotional learning.
-  School Resource Officer (Officer Coffin) who works with large groups, small groups, and individual students on this and many other topics.
-  Health Curriculum Units (delivered to grades 6-8)
-  Common sense media curriculum work for grades 6-8 (focus on cyberbullying prevention)
-  School-based Student Civil Rights Team
-  School-wide use of Restorative Practices (Restorative Justice Program)
-  Various student leadership group focus such as student council
-  Various school-wide assemblies.
-  Our incredibly talented teaching and administrative teams

9-12:

-  Guidance Counselors who work with small group social/emotional learning environments.
-  Social Workers who work with small group and individual students in the area of social/emotional learning.
-  School Resource Officer (Officer Drown - "Pooch") who works with small groups, and individual students on this and many other topics.
-  Health Curriculum Units (1 credit required for all students)
-  Youth Court
-  60+ student clubs and activities such as interact club, civil rights team, Key club and many more.
- Captains club meetings of all athletic captains to focus on leadership and positive culture development.
-  Various student leadership group focus such as student council, school council, etc.
-  Various school-wide assemblies.
-  Our incredibly talented teaching and administrative teams

These are just some of the basic things we do to focus on building positive school cultures here in Gorham that work to try and prevent bullying behaviors, among other things.  This is not an exhaustive list, and we add things as needed.  We take great pride in our overall positive school cultures in Gorham.  We want to make sure that each and every student knows that they have someone here that they can turn to if they are experiencing any problems, including bullying, while learning within the Gorham Schools.


I would encourage parents to continue to learn more about bullying.  There are lots of great resources and tools online.  Here are just a few:


https://www.stopbullying.gov/what-you-can-do/index.html


http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/


https://www.commonsensemedia.org/videos/5-ways-to-stop-cyberbullies-0

http://www.safekids.com/bullying-cyberbullying-resources/

Finally, I would encourage any parent or community member who may be worried that someone they know and love in the Gorham Schools is experiencing bullying to please reach out to our school staff.  I hope you can see from the information above that we take each report very seriously and although not every report winds up turning out to be bullying, every report does result in opportunities for further learning, growth and development for our youth.

Thank you!