Town officials attend subcommittee meeting, offer assistance

School Committee logo'[teachers and parapro-fessionals] felt heard.'
   -- Julianna Keyes
 UPDATED Dec. 19 -- Rooms too cold or too hot, ceiling leaks, and possible evidence of mold and of mice are among the issues at some local public-school campuses being reported – and, to some extent, addressed – at Arlington Public Schools this month.

These physical-plant problems were among the many concerns presented earlier this month by the Arlington Education Association, the teachers' union, to the School Committee, at its Dec. 1 meeting.

The situation is most pressing at Arlington High School, Ottoson Middle School, Dallin School and the “Parmenter building” owned by APS, where Menotomy Preschool now meets until it can return to the still-under-construction high school.

“Some improvements definitely have been made,” Superintendent Elizabeth Homan told the full School Committee at its regular meeting Dec. 15. 

Julianna Keyes, president of AEA, which presented its report at the committee’s previous meeting, Dec. 1, appeared to agree. “They [teachers and paraprofessionals] felt heard. They felt listened to.” 

Facilities subcommittee’s role

The facilities subcommittee met Dec. 12 for about an hour about the matter; Subcommittee Chair Jeff Thielman provided the current draft version of the minutes to YourArlington. One overall statement in those not-yet-official minutes is as follows, though not specific to any one campus: “The subcommittee discussed mice in various facilities in the district. Mr. Behrent [Town Director of Facilities Robert Behrent] said this is an issue that his office is addressing, noting that this is an ongoing issue in buildings everywhere.”

According to those minutes, even though Parmenter underwent renovations before the preschool moved in, including adding an elevator to make it ADA-compliant, problems remain. There is a ceiling leak, and the heat, thought it works most of the time, can often be too hot for comfort. Staffers plan to take a closer look soon, according to Behrent.

Dallin School difficulties

According to the minutes, at Dallin, AEA  previously identified 16 spaces with such issues as heating, water damage, dried mold spores, flooring and nonoperational windows. APS Chief Financial Officer Michael Mason said that the town is replacing rooftop HVAC units, which should address many of the issues raised; once the units are replaced, work orders will be put in to address the other issues, he said.

AHS, Ottoson issues

What the AEA had called “90 or nothing” in its document shared with the full committee Dec. 1 is a concern at AHS as well; that expression means that, if the heat works at all, it typically reaches an unpleasantly high degree.

According to the minutes, “Staff report that they are running air conditioning during the winter in rooms and offices that are too hot. One room in the new building has a broken window, which is awaiting repair.” Behrent said a new HVAC technician plans to identify the air leaks and repair them. As well, the school district is completing the description of a position it hopes to fill soon -- building automated systems manager -- to provide closer oversight. 

Meanwhile, at OMS, the main offices, music rooms and rooms off the lobby are so cold that staff generally use space heaters to make it comfortable enough to work, according to the minutes. Elsewhere, some rooms are too hot, and temperatures often do not respond to thermostat controls. Behrent said he would come to campus to learn more.

Votes on deadline, charging stations

In other action Dec. 15, the full School Committee:

  • Voted, 5-2, with Kirsi Allison-Ampe and Paul Schlichtman dissenting, to set 6 p.m. rather than the previous 3 p.m. as the deadline the day the committee meets to request by telephone or email a public-speaking spot in person or over Zoom. The two said they thought that having the deadline moved to only 30 minutes before meeting time would overly burden administrative staff. Those members of the public seeking to speak to the committee in person still may sign up in person just as the meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.
  • Voted, 6-1, with Len Kardon opposed, to install signs at AHS asking people not to park their vehicles at electric-vehicle charging stations unless actively charging their vehicles; Kardon called it “too proscriptive.” Homan responded to say that the district would not be actively enforcing the policy and that it would be up to local police or town personnel to do so.
  • Voted unanimously to renew the bullying-prevention plan, which had not been officially addressed since 2017, even though, by longstanding practice, this is supposed to be done every two years. Schlichtman and Allison-Ampe emphasized that the policy remains the same as before.
  • Heard from Keyes, who teaches at OMS, about how many students are unable to get to campus until 8:45 a.m. and who therefore arrive flustered and apologetic at their unavoidable tardiness due to the 77 bus running less frequently than before the pandemic. The instructional day at OMS begins at 8:30 a.m. The 77 bus route  runs along Mass. Ave. just north of the school.  
  • Began preliminary discussion of the budget for next school year, including hearing repeated written requests to add a full-time English language learner teacher at Peirce School. Committee members are expected to begin to state their own budget priorities next month.
  • Heard reports about districtwide performing arts programs, which have expanded after participation fees were dropped; from Stratton School, which wants a part-time reading specialist and a full-time library/media specialist; and from Thompson School, whose principal, Karen Donato, said that “recovering from the pandemic is going to take time” for both students and staff. Her concerns were echoed by Committee Chair Liz Exton, who said that “It has been a very challenging past three years” and that all involved have “been through a lot.”   
Watch the entire Dec. 15 meeting via ACMi:


This news summary by YourArlington education reporter Judith Pfeffer was published Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, and updated Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, to note that the subcommittee minutes are currently in unofficial form and to clarify that local police and town officials have the authority to enforce electric-vehicle-charging regulations.

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