By Chris Maza
WILBRAHAM – The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) will host a pair of events in February that could have an impact on the future of schools in the member towns.
On Feb. 5, Minnechaug will host a presentation from representatives of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on the Pioneer Valley’s involvement in the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment.
Robert Bickerton, DESE senior associate commissioner, and Maureen LaCroix, special assistant to the deputy commissioner, will make the presentation.
“Bob Bickerton is basically the point person for the PARCC exam and he will be explaining and answering some of the questions surrounding the assessment,” Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea said.
HWRSD administrators will be in attendance and the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee, along with school committees and superintendents from surrounding districts would also be invited to attend, according to O’Shea.
The meeting is open to the public.
According to its website, PARCC is a group of 19 states, including Massachusetts, funded by the federal Race to the Top assessment grant program, that has been working on developing an exam for kindergarten through 12th grade that would be aligned with the expectations of the Common Core Standards.
Massachusetts is currently exploring whether or not it will adopt the test, which would be administered in the place of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams that are currently given to students in third through 10th grades.
“The state is in the middle of a two-year period of field testing,” O’Shea said. “[HWRSD] will be involved in some limited field testing in the spring of 2014 with more extensive field testing in the spring of 2015. In the fall of 2015, the [DESE] will have a decision to make.”
On Feb. 12, the district will host a budget round table at which administrators and School Committee members will meet with leaders of the district’s member towns to discuss budgeting strategies for fiscal year 2015.
“It’s an annual event that gives us the opportunity to connect with the member towns before really getting into the budget process,” O’Shea said. “We will present our budget assumptions and find out what challenges and opportunities are in front of the towns for the next fiscal year.”
O’Shea explained the district is keeping a close eye on projections for Chapter 70 aid from the state as well as increases in operational, salary and benefit cost increases. The town is also affected by changes in the amount of regional transportation reimbursement the state offers.
“The governor’s budget comes out the third week of January,” O’Shea said. “We have this meeting shortly after that is released in order to have a better picture as to what some of those numbers will be.”
Last year, the district faced a serious budget situation with nine teaching positions, 12 paraprofessional positions, a clerical position, an administrative position and a district wide operational support position in peril in spite of a 2.5 percent increase.
However, the School Committee and the Hampden-Wilbraham Education Association reached a collective bargaining agreement that saved the positions.
Under that agreement, teachers received a 1 percent cost of living raise, but forfeited step increases that had been negotiated into prior contracts. They also were required to take one-half furlough day.