SPECIAL COVERAGE ON THE CORONAVIRUS
School Leaders Share Concerns That Resources May Be Strained In The Fall
By Greg Lane, Hingham Current Staff
Posted June 3, 2020
Updated June 3, 2020 at 1:45 pm
The Hingham High School on Union Street. [Hingham Current News File Photo / Kristen Arute]
The Finance Subcommittee of the School Committee met with school administrators on Monday to obtain an update on changes that need to be made for the fall in order to protect students from coronavirus as they return to school. Reducing person-to-person transmission has been deemed a priority and comes with a brand new set of costs that are not currently accounted for in the Fiscal Year 2021 (“FY21”) budget. The schools will have to increase the number of buses, set up smaller classrooms, shut down common areas such as cafeterias, perform health checks and supply personal protection equipment (PPE).
Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Paul Austin shared with the subcommittee that technology needs could also be substantial, but they are not accounted for in the FY21 budget either. Austin explained that it could cost up to $750,000 to ensure every teacher has a laptop and that every student has access to a Chromebook. Currently, most of the schools’ computer technology is in the form of desktops.
“It is a serious concern for me how will we ensure that we can do remote learning (in the fall) with equitable access for both teachers and for students,” said Austin, noting that other school systems may be more prepared with technology for education than Hingham.
School Committee Member Liza O’Reilly agreed that purchasing additional laptops and Chromebooks would be a priority even if remote learning were not at issue. “Having more devices for students is needed for us to upgrade our education system in Hingham,” said O’Reilly.
During the meeting, the finance committee and administrators recognized that school staff is working tirelessly on the front lines educating students and all have risen to the unique challenges created by the pandemic. Additional discussion focused on the importance of planning now to ensure school administrators and teachers have the resources and time required to respond adequately to student needs in the fall.
Since School Committee members already signed off on the Board of Selectmen’s FY21 Financial Management Plan, which left the $58 million school budget unchanged, O’Reilly suggested the School Committee consider requesting additional funding from the Advisory Committee.
The Board of Selectmen have recommended presenting the full FY21 budget to Town Meeting on June 20th, a move which indicates that the Town of Hingham will not be deviating from the budget that was established in January prior to the widespread devastation of the pandemic.