Ludlow School Committee talks waivers, finances and data

LUDLOW — The September 27 school committee meeting included a vote on the athletic waiver and budget update, as well as two presentations on recent student enrollment and demographic information.

Sports derogation

Each year, the committee must vote on and approve the waiver allowing students in lower grades to participate in junior varsity (JV) and varsity sports. This allows middle school students to participate in high school sports.

The renewal of derogations at the college concerns winter and spring sports. Winter sports waivers are for eighth grade only and include JV ice hockey, boys’ varsity swimming, varsity wrestling, and JV women’s basketball. Spring sports waivers are for seventh and eighth graders and include varsity tennis, JV softball, and baseball.

Athletic Director Tim Brillo and School Committee Chairman Chip Harrington have mentioned how extracurricular and athletic participation is down, but thinks it’s just a product of COVID-19 and hopes to see an increase in enrollment in sports. Brillo said, “Every year is different in how many kids we get. It may also be up to coaches to recruit children to play their sport.

The waiver was approved unanimously.

Financial update

Superintendent Frank Tiano mentioned on the date of the select committee meeting how he wanted to be more transparent with the community on the budget, so everyone knows where the money is allocated and what funds are left for each department.

Kathleen Demetrius, Director of Operations/School Business Manager, provided the committee with an update on the current financial situation of the district.

She said: “The total available balance is good and the report reflects individual line items that are negative. Many of them will be adjusted when grants are approved.

Demetrius continued to mention that there are a few items for which there are insufficient funds, but said, “There is a proposed item for the fall town meeting to increase the budget to support us in these areas.”

Committee members and Tiano will be at the meeting to discuss their article proposing to increase their budget by $150,000. Harrington intended to talk about the details of why they asked for this amount of money at the town meeting which took place on October 3.

Harrington said there will be a financial update every other meeting.

Tiano wanted the committee to acknowledge and vote on his proposed budget timeline that was presented last week at their joint meeting with the select committee. The timeline includes finalizing the new budget and presenting it to the public by January. Tiano wanted the committee to vote on his schedule, so everyone was on the same page. The vote is passed.

Data presentations

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Erica Faginski-Stark and Director of Special Education Eva Tillotson provided the committee with recent student enrollment and demographic information.
Tiano said he invited the two district members to present because the district is approaching the October 1 deadline for official school registration that they must provide to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ( TO).

He said: ‘That’s where the funding comes from, and those numbers are used for things like accountability. As we put together our programming for this year and the years to come, we need to understand the students we deal with and the services we provide. We need to understand our school population and our trends in this area. Our school population changes from year to year and we need to understand what those numbers are and what is behind those numbers.

Faginski-Stark first gave an update on community demographics. All figures are based on figures for October 1 of each respective year.

The presentation showed that the 10-year total enrollment in schools is gradually decreasing each year. The presentation went on to show who makes up the community based on race/ethnicity, the trend of select populations like English Language Learners (EL) or Individualized Education Program (IEP) students, the number of registrants who meet these criteria and families who may be considered low income.

It also showed the number of homeless students and school-chosen students. School choice is a term for education options that allow students and families to choose alternatives to public schools. There are currently 20 students with IEPs.

Faginski-Stark spoke about the EL population and said, “The good thing we see with our EL population from an academic perspective is that the stability is high. You’ll notice it’s 97% and what that means for us is that the students who come to us stay here, which means we’re able to provide them with a quality education and we can learn the English language.

Faginski-Stark said they started this year with 146 EL students and they were counting. The first language people come to schools with is Portuguese and there are more than 20 native languages.
Tillotson’s presentation shared the number of special education students enrolled at Ludlow schools. It shows a slight decrease over the last decade. The rest of the presentation showed what they provide in district services, special education students by school, and the number of out-of-district students.

The presentation shows that there are currently 420 special education students enrolled in the district and it is broken down by school. There are also 26 students who are placed out of district in places like Holyoke, Springfield and Windsor Locks, CT. Tillotson said these students attend a special education school outside the district and cover most of the tuition through a scholarship.

She also shared a chart that breaks down each program each school offers for special education. These programs include Pre-K Critical Care Learning Programs, Integrated Pre-K Classrooms, Inclusion, Intensive Autism Programs, Concentration Programs, Structured Individual Programs, Disorders Programs language-based learning, a life skills program and a bridging program for those between the ages of 18 and 21. Each school offers related services such as speech, social workers and counsellors.
Tillotson showed a comparison of special education students in this district to similar areas like Agawam. The percentage rate for Ludlow is also lower than the state. She mentioned, “I think we’ve gotten better over the years to really identify students as having a disability and in need of services. We tried to explain to the staff that being a little late doesn’t mean you need an IEP or a disability.

She added: “If you label a child, it stays with them for the rest of their life. If they’re not really disabled, we shouldn’t call them that.

The committee expressed that they were all very grateful for both presentations and that they learned more about the people and communities in their schools and the distribution of programs and services.
Taino also mentioned that the budget and presentations on student enrollment and demographics will be available on the school’s website.

The school committee will meet again on October 11.