Moving toward a new or renovated high school
Among the latest steps in Lexington’s quest to qualify for a partial reimbursement for a new or renovated high school from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), district and Town leaders met with the MSBA team last week to discuss LPS enrollment and its implications for the Town’s future high school size and design.
Discussions took stock of possible enrollment effects of new MBTA multi-family zoning requirements Lexington will have to comply with by 2024 (a current priority for the Planning Board ahead of Annual Town Meeting). Though the effects of this zoning on LPS enrollment remain difficult to predict, to account for the possibility that additional multi-family housing might be built under this zoning in the next few years and could lead to additional children enrolling at LPS, “the MSBA plans to increase their base design enrollment for the LHS project,” Superintendent Julie Hackett wrote in her biweekly report. The MSBA will likely confirm that figure in the next few weeks.
“The bottom line is through that process, we gained close to about 300 students, which is a very good outcome,” Hackett said during the meeting. Still, “nobody knows how this [MBTA zoning] will materialize,” she stressed.
Once Lexington’s enrollment certification is completed in February, the district will be able to move on to develop a Feasibility Study Agreement with the MSBA. Hackett anticipates an MSBA vote to invite the district into its capital pipeline on March 1 of next year.
“We are right on track,” she said.
LPS current and future enrollment
Lexington’s PK-12 enrollment increased by 55 students from last year to a total of 6,845 this year, according to the district’s annual review and projections of student enrollment. That’s a slightly smaller increase than was indicated by preliminary data from October.
There was no change in K-5 elementary enrollment compared to last year, but enrollment is still lower than pre-pandemic levels and is projected to decrease over the next three years.
Middle school enrollment increased by 17 students this year, but also remains lower than pre-pandemic levels. Enrollment is projected to decline into Fiscal Year 2024 by about 45-50 students and level out the following year. But Hackett added that there are still many unknowns with enrollment: “Nobody really knows what’s going to happen because things have been so strange with the pandemic.”
The already overcrowded high school saw its enrollment increase by 30 students this year. Enrollment is projected to increase slightly or remain at its current level of roughly 2,300 students for the next three years, who are currently accommodated by a building designed for 1,850.
“So, [enrollment] continues to stabilize and grow where we don’t need it to, and decline where we don’t need it to, but that’s the overall big picture,” Hackett said.
FY23 First Quarter Report
At the end of the first quarter of the school year, the Lexington School Department is projecting a surplus of $1.026 million from the approved Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which amounts to a roughly 1% surplus of the total budget. According to Assistant Superintendent for Finance & Operations David Coelho, this is a fairly normal surplus for this time of year. That said, he noted in his report that the “unusually difficult labor market” affecting many districts and industries is continuing to contribute to this surplus in Lexington, with vacant positions translating to a surplus of unspent salaries, a pandemic-related trend in the past few LPS quarterly reports. At the end of the first FY23 quarter, there were 26.27 full-time equivalent (FTE) vacancies across the district, down from about 35 vacancies this time last year. Many of the listed vacancies are for specialists, instructional assistants and part-time positions.
Looking ahead, the School Committee approved the FY2024 budget calendar and budget guidelines by a 4-0 vote (one School Committee member was absent from the meeting), though members plan to revisit one budget guideline stipulation in early January.
A proposal for school-based Sustainability Champions focused on reducing waste
LPS Green Teams members asked the School Committee to consider approving funding for new Sustainability Champion positions specific to each school community in 2023. Members Diane Pursley and Lin Jensen, and Diamond Middle School educator and Green Team advisor Christine Goulet, proposed that these positions could take the form of financially compensated year-long roles based on the existing Wellness Champion model.
Creating the new positions, they said, would help institutionalize and expand sustainability practices across schools, with a focus on implementing the existing LPS Waste Reduction Policy. Currently, LPS Green Team capacities depend primarily on parent investment as volunteers, so there is a range in practices and bandwidth across different school communities. Pursley, Jensen and Goulet said that a Sustainability Champion could be a voice and champion for sustainability practices at each school – especially for composting and waste reduction – with the hope of ultimately helping educate students on environmental issues, decreasing food waste and potentially saving schools money by minimizing garbage.
The Green Teams members proposed allocating $14,300 across 10 schools for these stipends. They hope to implement the program during Earth Month in April 2023 – but prior to implementation, the School Committee would need to reflect this proposal in its budget priorities, engage in stipend bargaining with the Lexington Education Association and create job descriptions among other steps, Hackett said. Because multiple steps remain, the School Committee did not vote on this proposal at their Tuesday meeting.