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District may have to put freeze on this year's budget

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM The School Committee met in the library of Stony Hill Elementary School last week, discussing both optimistic and troubling things such as improvements and the Hampden/Wilbraham Regional School District's grants and budget.

The meeting had a large number of Minnechaug students present who were covering the event for their "Democracy in Action" class. Superintendent Paul Gagliarducci said he was surprised and pleased to have such a large audience for the meeting.

Student representative Greg Boilard updated the School Committee on the status of the new media center at Minnechaug, which is now open to students. It contains new computers, televisions and SMART boards.

New Stony Hill principal Sherrill Caruana started the meeting by greeting everyone present and explaining what she's been doing to settle into her new role. "In my first 40 days, I sometimes felt like Noah," she said. "There have been rainy days sometimes a deluge but we're coming up on the rainbow."

Caruana has had 15-minute conversations with every staff member at Stony Hill, and she was happy to report that everyone she talked to said they enjoyed working at the school. She's also read aloud to every class in the school, using a book titled "Nini Here and There" by Anita Lobel. It tells the story of a cat named Nini whose family is moving to New Hampshire and Nini is worried that her family might leave her behind. It is a story of how to adjust to changes.

Another way Caruana is getting to know her students was to have them write down their hopes and dreams, which are now posted around the school. "Some wishes were simple, like a bagel," Caruana said, "and others were a bit more difficult like becoming shortstop for the New York Yankees." Her goal at Stony Hill is to create a caring, intelligent community. Committee member Marianne Desmond presented the new principal with a book about soccer for the library to show that the School Committee shared her commitment to teamwork.

The four district-wide improvement goals discussed at the Aug. 28 meeting were all approved during a vote, after several weeks of discussion.

Updates on the grants awarded to the school district seemed positive as well. This year, $1,535,426 was awarded to the district, an increase of $17,899 over last year. This amount, however, is "virtually the same as last year," according to Assistant Superintendent Donna Scanlon.

Some of the different grant monies awarded provide funds for innovative teaching plans and professional development, full-day kindergarten classes, an early literacy program, special education, academic support services, safety and security measures and newly instituted elementary school counselors.

Unfortunately, the grants did not provide enough funds for this year's school budget. Gagliarducci said a freeze on the budget may be on the horizon. "It's nothing catastrophic," he said, "but there's no money left. We can only provide funds if it's an emergency."

One reason for the possible freeze is that the school district has more students with special needs this year, which resulted in the hiring of more special education aides.

Discussion about FY09 budget will begin this month.

One of the Minnechaug students in attendance asked about the budget for the repairs needed on the high school building. Recently visited by a senior team from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, Minnechaug is still being observed before any state-funded repairs can be made. Gagliarducci said that the roof of the building has been repaired already, as well as the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The School Committee has a lot of work ahead of them when it comes to finances. "We're doing educational gymnastics to achieve some of these state and federal grants," Gagliarducci said. "We do an awful lot for a little bit."

The next School Committee meeting will be Oct. 9 at Thornton W. Burgess Middle School.