School Committee approves a budget ‘built for the future’

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WESTFIELD – School Committee member Tim O’Connor called the $63,164,542 school budget passed Monday “very clean, very transparent.”

O’Connor said after several meetings of the Finance sub-committee, which he chairs, they ended up with a budget that had a 3% increase, but no increase to the city. “What makes it unique is that it is built for the future,” O’Connor said, before bringing a motion to approve the $63.2 million budget to the floor during the Westfield School Committee meeting Monday.
Ramon Diaz, Jr. said that every member of the School Committee came to the Finance meetings. He repeated, saying it was worth repeating, that although there is a 3% increase, the cost to the city is going to remain the same. “Your tax dollars are not changing because of the school budget,” he said.
Bo Sullivan also said it was worth repeating that there were “zero more dollars to the city.” He said it was his first time involved in the process. “Everybody did a fantastic job,” he said.
Mayor Brian P. Sullivan said the words coming out of the meeting were “sustainability and growth.” He said there are items going down, such as negotiated severance pay, which is being eliminated gradually, and there is an investment in the buildings and grounds.
“I’m not making any suggested cuts because there is no increase, and because nothing is warranted to be cut,” Mayor Sullivan said. He added that the House and Senate are currently in Boston debating the Chapter 70 Local Aid funding, but the budget was based on a conservative projection of the final amount.
Diaz pointed out that in some areas, notably in special education, the district went from employee-based services to contract-based services, saving the city an additional $300,000 in employee insurance. “I think it’s a very responsible budget,” Diaz said, before the committee voted unanimously to approve.
Chief Financial Officer Ronald R. Rix and members of his technology team also gave an update on the district’s technology plan, which is 18 months into a three-year program. He began with a short video on “The World in 2030,” when today’s first graders will be graduating, which showed a future with electric and flying cars, nanotechnology and human organs being made by 3-D printers.
“Our job today as educators is to prepare kids for their futures, not our past,” Rix said, adding that the quote was not his. He said the team had done a great job in the last 18 months, and thanked Lenore Bernashe at the Technology Center for her assistance.
Rix said that every school in the district now has 2:1 devices, and is on its way with a plan to have a device for every student. The 1:1 plan will be launched next year beginning with the Westfield Middle School, followed by the Westfield Intermediate School, with a purchase of another 800 Chromebooks.
Diaz noted there is now a line item in the budget for technology to refresh the devices on a regular basis, instead of a large technology bond for one-time purchases. “We’re creating an ongoing system, very strategic, which is starting to pay off,” Diaz said.
The district has also moved from desktop computers to mobile devices including Chromebooks, iPads and laptops, with tech rooms disappearing. Another move is from Smart Boards to interactive monitors. Rix said Fort Meadow Early Childhood Center has a giant touch screen monitor for the preschoolers, which is installed at their height.
Technology team member Denise Ruszala said another part of the plan is to equip all staff with professional development to embed digital learning into all areas, and to support the implementation of academic interventions for students with special needs.
Ruszala said they are also transitioning from an Acceptable Use Policy to a Responsible Use Policy, which teaches how to use devices properly, rather than telling students what not to do. She said the district has completed half of their action steps in the first year. “We’re pretty proud of our actions,” she said.
District Technology Coach Erica Masciadrelli said the district has secured Power School unified classroom. All staff have access to a computer or Chromebook, and the district is offering training on all sites. She said they have trained 181 teachers at 13 Google Classroom trainings to date, and another 367 staff in nine Google courses. Another goal is to support all students in the Next Generation MCAS tests which are online, Masciadrelli said.
Technology Team member Joseph Mullett, who teaches eighth grade science at Westfield Middle School, said all schools have functional websites with the ability to pay athletic fees online as well as school lunches using MySchoolBucks. Ruszala added that 150 kindergarteners were registered online this year to date.
Mullett said all students also have their own Gmail, which has different accessibility depending on the grade levels. Parents have access to summaries on a weekly basis through Power School and Google Classroom.
Rix said there are still issues to be worked out with the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy in the high schools, which he said can present difficulties when students bring in different devices on different days. He said they are also expanding switches in the walls, and building one-gigabyte access throughout the district.
“Then with technology, we’re not there, we’re starting over,” Rix said.
The complete technology plan is available on the district website at

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