Norwell Schools Facing Challenges
The Norwell School Department is outlining the needs for fiscal year 2013 and setting priorities early on so that parents and residents can discuss the many challenges the town’s education system is facing. The school budget has been a controversial topic for decades, but the Norwell School Committee is underscoring the urgency of current school needs, calling 2013 priorities “must-haves,” not a “wish list.” Norwell School Superintendent Dr. Donald Beaudette met with members of the Norwell School Committee, the Board of Selectmen and Advisory Board on Wednesday, September 14 for a preliminary discussion of the fiscal year 2013 budget. The cuts in spending are catching up to Norwell Public School system, leaving residents to decide what they are willing to spend for the quality of Norwell Schools.
According to the Norwell School Committee, over the past few years Norwell elementary schools, William G. Vinal School and Grace F. Cole School, have seen a rise in student enrollment, as well as cuts in teacher spending. The budget hasn’t allowed the school to replace positions left from retired teachers, leaving classrooms to consolidate. Class sizes are big, often more than 25 students, sometimes over 30, as the school curriculum transitions from MCAS mandates to federally-mandated national standards known as Common Core. According to the Norwell School Committee, 95% off the school districts in Massachusetts have a better student-to-teacher ratio than Norwell. School enrollment has grown by almost 20%, an additional 320 students in Norwell’s schools, while teacher and staff numbers have not changed due to budget constraints. With the development of new homes such as the Wildcat Hill development with 46 new residences, teachers, parents and students are facing an even greater jump in enrollment in the Cole School district in the coming years.
According to the Norwell School Committee, while Norwell Middle School and Norwell High School are dealing with the same problem of a growing student population, the issue cannot be resolved with larger class sizes. The solution would be to add teachers and sections to accommodate the number of students taking the subject. The limited of number of sections available currently leaves students to fill their schedules with studies. The elimination or non-renewal of teacher positions equates to the removal of a subject offering for students. Based on the resource planning report submitted by the Norwell School Committee, an additional 20 FTEs (full-time equivalent) will be needed for fiscal year ’13, which comes at an estimated cost of $1,160,000. They consider these positions ”a must-have if you want to offer the same level of service we offer at our schools.” Without adding more teachers and sections for students, the Norwell school system may have to reduce graduation requirements for Norwell High School, which currently requires four years of mathematics, science and social studies, in addition to four years of English, plus three years of foreign language. A reduction in high school requirements in Norwell could have serious implications for students applying to college.
A Decline in Spending in Norwell Schools
Norwell has limited school spending over the last few years. According to the Department of Revenue, in 2000, 58% of the Norwell town budget was spent on the school operating budget. In 2010, Norwell spent 49% on the school operating budget. Norwell’s per pupil spending is in the bottom quarter of the state, $2,200 per student less than the state average. A decade ago Norwell was in the top quarter. The spending on student education in Norwell has decreased, MCAS numbers have slipped a bit, as well as Norwell’s ranking in state school districts.
The Relationship Between Norwell Real Estate and Norwell Schools
Norwell attracts home buyers because of its reputation as a great family community with an excellent school system. Norwell has some of the best teachers in the state and dedicated principals. But, without an adequate school budget and resources it will be more and more difficult, until finally impossible to maintain a quality level of education. And the quality of Norwell’s school system is closely related to Norwell’s real estate market and home prices. Simply put, Norwell home values and real estate activity depend on the school system.
Next Steps for Norwell Residents
Norwell residents are urged to take a look at Norwell school budget concerns and learn more about the challenges facing Norwell Public Schools. Residents are invited to attend a public education forum titled, “Tomorrow’s Schools Today” on Thursday, October 6, 2011, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Norwell Middle School Cafetorium. Open to all Norwell residents, the evening is designed to offer insight into the state of the Norwell Public Schools today and the goals for tomorrow.