Finance Subcommittee holds meeting to discuss summer programs and fees



The School Committee Finance Subcommittee met on June 23 to discuss plans for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and department fees for the 2020-21 school year.

Members of the School Committee Finance Subcommittee gathered virtually at 12 p.m. on June 23 to discuss the structure of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and future district fees, which have been impacted by COVID-19.

The School Committee Finance Subcommittee primarily focuses on regulating the funding of departments and formulating an appropriate budget for the school year. The subcommittee explained how the summer school and athletics fees could increase and how the performing arts budget could decrease.

Director of School Building Services Operations, Matt Gillis, explained how the SFSP will accommodate families and students that have been severely affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

“In the former program, the selection was only for underprivileged children, but because of the economic uncertainties, we will not give a maximum for the program,” Gillis said. “We understand the financial situations of the families change and we will accommodate them.”

Gillis explained how the program will adjust their normal responsibilities during the summer and take on larger challenges and obligations for the food security of the community.

“We are expecting an increase in enrollment, so we should consider putting more funding into the program and its operations,” Gillis said. “Because of the increase in enrollment and uncertainties in jobs for many parents, we are going to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week for any student, regardless of paid, discounted or free status for lunches.”

As a result of the sudden and unexpected increase in enrollment, Gillis proposed the possibility that SFSP could collaborate with other pantries and food security agencies to help create and distribute meals across the district. Gillis shared the obligations and responsibilities of the SFSP, including maintaining a consistent schedule for enrolled families.

“The Brookline Thrives Pantry could potentially share our responsibility with the community and that could help with our distribution and organization,” Gillis said. “The meals have to be consistent with the schedule we proposed because we always promise the families their meals.”

The Brookline Thrives Pantry works closely with the Brookline Public Schools (BPS) and provides students facing food insecurity with meals. The meals are rotated and provide students with free access towards subsidised food for the weekends of the school year.

Gillis also explained how if the closure of school continues into the fall without a major economic resurgence, the program could continue into the fall and onwards if necessary. Unlike other summers, the SFSP could also use school buildings to distribute meals to the enrolled participants, but this plan would require state funding.

The next topic on the agenda for the subcommittee was revising certain common fees for different activities. Susan Wolf Ditkoff, Chair of the School Committee Finance Subcommittee, spoke about how the summer school program will be adjusted.

“The summer school will be allocated $20,000 for the summer, but we are considering adding more funding because of the circumstances,” Wolf Ditkoff said. “Although the $20,000 will not come as a deficit, [because] the number of courses offered this summer will be decreased, we still need more information from the high school.”

Wolf Ditkoff continued onto the athletics fee, which has traditionally been $300 per student registering for a sport. Ditkoff explained how this fee might increase based off of pre-COVID estimates, but that the subcommittee may need more guidance from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association (MIAA) before a finalized decision.

“For the athletics fee, we have to have guidance from the state and the MIAA before we even consider any changes. The whole point of the fees in general is to break even, so depending on the future impacts of COVID-19, we cannot accurately predict what the new rates will be for many programs,” Wolf Ditkoff said. “I do not see the athletics fee decreasing because even without COVID-19, it seemed the fee was not properly covering sports teams well.”

To conclude the discussion on changing fees for the 2020-21 school year, Wolf Ditkoff described how the performing arts departments and their fundings will have to adjust accordingly to how school runs during the fall semester.

“The visual and performing arts will have to be considered as well because remote learning has drastically changed the way we perceive them,” Wolf Ditkoff said. “For the upcoming school year, we should think about what those curriculums will look like and how they will or will not operate.”

School Committee Chair Suzanne Federspiel ended the meeting by addressing that the bus system in the district could be cut if funding for other departments was not allocated properly.

“The South Brookline bus is not state mandated, and the bus company has been sucking money out of the district this past year, so we should consider cutting the amount of buses running,” Federspiel said. “We could potentially run with three buses, even if that meant dropping students off much earlier at their schools.”