Lexingtonians learned more about school budget drivers and the people behind them Oct. 7 at the League of Women Voters of Lexington’s First Friday Forum held at Cary Memorial Library.
In front of a few dozen residents who turned out for the forum, featured guests Pat Goddard, Tom Plati and Linda Chase peeled back the layers of their departments and explained the places, tools and services the people pay for.
That Lexington lags well behind comparable school districts in incorporating interactive white boards in classrooms and how intensive learning programs help control special education costs were among the takeaways from the forum.
Facilities Director Pat Goddard explained how the Department of Public Facilities came about in 2007 and is a shared expense that comes out of the town budget before it’s split between town and schools.
A brief budget history shows where school rental expenses were separate in fiscal 2008, where rental revolving came in fiscal 2009 and the Estabrook School mitigation expenses came on in fiscal 2011.
Of the approximately $9 to $9.4 million DPF budget, about $7 million traditionally goes to the schools, while up to $1.5 million goes to municipal and additional funds are shared expenses, according to Goddard’s presentation.
Compensation for 67 employees and utilities are “the vast majority” of DPF expenditures, according to Goddard, who said a good chunk of supplies costs stock bathrooms and cover other essentials in public facilities used by 6,000 to 7,000 people daily.
Tom Plati, head of technology and assessment for the Lexington Public Schools, presented short videos showing how students and teachers across all grade levels utilize technology, like laptops and interactive white boards, inside the classroom.
Over the past few years, Plati said the district has asked for $700,000 to $800,000 for things like computers, network equipment and smart boards.
On the operating side, 18 individuals make up the techs, instruction specialists and data management team that oversees the 2,700 computers and other technologies in the schools, Plati said.
In Plati’s presentation, forum attendees saw middle school students using iPods to learn foreign languages and how the smart boards benefit English, geometry and special needs classrooms.
“One area we’re behind in is interactive white boards,” Plati said, clicking to a slide that shows 22 percent of LPS classrooms are equipped with smart boards, compared to 35 percent nationally and 100 percent at Concord-Carlisle and Sudbury.
Though her department also encompasses nursing and civil rights, Linda Chase, the director of student services, spent the bulk of her time talking about special education, which accounts for about 20 to 25 percent of the LPS budget.
After an overview of the various laws and acts that govern special education and prohibit discrimination, Chase explained the 10 different disabilities categories, ranging from out-of-district placements to occasional classroom services.
“It’s all about access,” she said. “Not just for people with the physical, but learning as well.”
Between 16 and 17 percent of LPS students have learning disabilities, which his in line with the state average, according to Chase, who said that means between 1,050 and 1,080 students are receiving some sort of special education.
Currently, 95 to 100 students are getting theirs out-of-district at a cost of about $8 million, but that total would be much greater if not for the autistic students involved in the Intensive Learning Program (ILP) at Fiske School, Chase said.
Although it’s costly, Chase said it’s a priority to expand the Fiske ILP to Diamond Middle School and district-wide, a move that would help control costs and keep kids in-district and with their peers in the school community.
“We feel it is very important that they be educated in our schools,” she said.