Brookline School Committee addresses return to in-person learning and town budget



The Brookline School Committee (BSC) discussed upcoming plans for returning students to PSB buildings for in-person learning and details regarding the next fiscal year budget

The Brookline School Committee (BSC) convened virtually via Zoom on March 25 at 6 p.m. to discuss upcoming plans for students returning to in-person learning and an update on the upcoming town budget for the fiscal year 2022.

Junior Claire Gallion, student representative to the BSC, opened the meeting describing some of the responses she received from a petition from high school students. Gallion said that students feel their only outdoor space for socializing and having mask breaks was being taken away without fair warning.

Finance Subcommittee Chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff said the BSC cannot delay the Cypress Field renovations, that began the week of March 15, to the field on the basis of contractual obligations with the construction company.

Deputy Superintendent for Administration and Finance Mary Ellen Normen shared a slideshow presentation providing an update to the next fiscal year’s town budget. Normen said the BSC is still finalizing the budget for the administration.

“We are trying to pinpoint finalized staffing and make sure that we are meticulous around positions and funding of [those] positions. We have been working diligently on that with principals, coordinators and senior staff,” Normen said.

Normen said that although the town budget has improved throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still a deficit for the next fiscal year. The town has a working budget of $130,843,000 against an identified revenue of $127,700,000, which leaves a $3,000,000 deficit.

Interim Superintendent Dr. James Marini announced that Interim Principal of Runkle School, Donna Finnegan, would be appointed to her position on a permanent basis. Marini said Finnegan’s love for the town and the school itself made her the most optimal candidate in the hiring process.

“Donna Finnegan loves Brookline, and she loves being at the Runkle School. They feel that support, they feel that compassion [and] they feel that appropriate affection. They want to embrace her as the leader, and they just could not say enough about her,” Marini said.

Finnegan said the community at the school and the support of the parents and the teachers have helped keep her motivated.

“I have been so supported by an incredible staff at Runkle. Our teachers are amazing. They’ve done incredible things during this pandemic and continue to do so. The students have been so resilient,” Finnegan said.

The return to in-person school, a belabored topic throughout the past month, was discussed thoroughly in the meeting. BSC member Barbara Scotto said she wanted to clarify the BSC’s intentions on the future of the Remote Learning Academy (RLA) for the upcoming school year.

“Everyone is going back to school [and] we have to be aware of that in terms of hiring. It is in the budget guidelines that we would end the RLA, and that we are planning for next school year for all classes [to] be in-person,” Scotto said.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Michelle Herman said although the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) stated the high school would not need to accommodate additional learning time, this is still unofficial.

“The state has been very clear with us that right now we do not need to make up learning time at the high school. However, as Dr. Marini pointed out, we do have several complaints to the state that have been filed that we are responding to,” Herman said. “If there are findings from the state based on that material, we will receive word on if we need to address additional hours.”

Interim Deputy Superintendent for Student Services Casey Ngo-Miller said students will need additional support to address the learning and social emotional problems that have risen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The district is entering into this next phase of teaching and learning, which really is the recovery and enrichment stage,” Ngo-Miller said. “So many students may need support to address their educational and social emotional needs to reorient them back to learning in the next school year.”

Marini said students that have not attended in-person learning should have some of those experiences in the near future.

“We have been thinking a lot about students who have not been in a school building [in] over a year,” Marini said. “We want to get some opportunities for [those] students to do some enrichment to engage in more school-like experiences and also to have some continuity from this school year into next.”