The Falmouth Public School District is seeking to expand its world language offerings by hiring a Portuguese teacher as part of its Fiscal Year 2021 budget priorities, Superintendent Lori S. Duerr said during the Falmouth School Committee meeting Tuesday, December 10.
Other staff additions the district is considering include a Woods Hole project coordinator, an occupational therapist and a half-time English language teacher, as well as an early childhood educator and an adjustment counselor at Falmouth High School.
“The federal grants remain flat, and enrollment is anticipated to decline slightly while school choice is anticipated to continue an upward trend after seven years of growth,” Dr. Duerr said. “We’re currently negotiating our bargaining agreements, and right now we have 72 percent of our current staff at the highest step [in salary level].”
Last year the district conducted “a thorough analysis of all programming, all staffing and all student needs,” the superintendent said, noting her team’s strategy is to reallocate resources to cover needs and to use vacancy savings from retirements and resignations when possible.
Patrick Murphy, director of finance and facilities for the schools, said the most important aspect of any budget is predictability.
“We’ve been fortunate over the past five years to have predictable increases from the town, and that is vital when your costs due to collective bargaining et cetera go up at a predictable rate also,” he said.
More of the district’s students are now eligible for the state’s free and reduced lunch program, with a jump from 33 percent in FY 2019 to 45 percent in FY 2020, Mr. Murphy said.
“There has been a change in how the state does the calculation, so what happens nowadays is that any student or family that is involved in any type of state program, like MassHealth, provides those children the ability to take advantage of free or reduced lunch,” he said, explaining the 12 percent jump. “That’s an automatic certification from the state. We don’t make any judgments on that.”
The superintendent’s priorities include adding new positions to offer new opportunities for students, as well as enhancing the wrap-around services for students in need of social-emotional supports.
To grow the district’s world language offerings, Dr. Duerr said, her team is looking to start at the kindergarten level so that the district has consistency from kindergarten to grade 12.
“Recognizing that we have a very rich Portuguese culture in Falmouth, we will be able to teach the language through a culture-based program, beginning with one teacher in the fall of 2020 to start with kindergarten and 1st grade,” she said.
The district will then look to increase the Portuguese language offerings each year over time to include 5th and 6th graders at Morse Pond School and to expand opportunities at Lawrence School and the high school, Dr. Duerr said.
School committee member Terri Medeiros, a retired French teacher, said there will be two languages offered at Morse Pond—Portuguese and Spanish—with French instruction beginning at Lawrence and moving toward a total of four world languages at the high school.
“Portuguese is our most-spoken second language in the district by far, and the next language is Spanish, and we know that when students learn how to learn a language it is easier then to pick up a third language,” Dr. Duerr said.
Staff reallocation is an annual necessity that mitigates the need for dramatic restructuring in the future, the superintendent said.
“Our overall budget does not allow for growth in staff,” she said, adding the district will nevertheless focus on providing targeted, specialized support for children and families with unique needs.