PEPPERELL — Summer just got a little longer, at least for the public school students of Pepperell. On Aug. 6, School Committee members voted to push the beginning of the school year back from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4, according to Varnum Brook Principal Dr. Pauline Cormier. The reason for the shift is the potential approval of a supplemental budget for the school district, to be determined by Aug. 28.
Pepperell granted the school district a budget of $10,740,000 at the annual Town Meeting held on May 7, according to the meeting minutes. However, the final budget won’t be determined until the end of August.
“All three towns (in the North Middlesex district, Pepperell, Ashby and Townsend) approved a level of support for the school budget. That amount is not the amount that the schools need to operate,” said Town Administrator John Moak. “They have requested that the towns supplement their budget beyond what we’ve already approved, but the supplemental budget will be dependent upon an override vote.”
Pepperell would be responsible for raising $375,000 in additional funds, pending a discussion at a special Town Meeting on Aug. 13 and a potential vote on Aug. 28, according to Moak.
Until then, the schools continue to prepare for the new school year, both inside and out.
Upon pouring out of Varnum Brook Elementary School’s side doors for their first recess, returning students might not recognize their playground. While the kids have been absorbing the last few rays of summer sun, lead custodian Dave Amari and his crew have been hard at work refurbishing the lot and adding some new recreational amenities.
“(The playground) is getting an overhaul,” Amari said.
Where previously there had only been a patch of dirt in the far right corner, Amari is building a new sandbox and installing his piece de résistance: a small soccer field.
In addition to these projects, Amari has led his crew in inspecting all the equipment, reseeding the grass and pulling up old asphalt. Still on the agenda is erecting a shed for outdoor toys, spreading a new layer of splinter-free mulch and restoring the school greenhouse.
“We’re just trying to improve the overall environment for the children,” he said.
It’s not an easy feat due to the tight purse strings: Staff members are thinking outside the box and it’s not the first time they’ve had to.
“This is not just an issue we’ve had this year. For three years we’ve been cutting and cutting and cutting,” said Varnum Brook Principal Pauline Cormier.
Because of this, the schools have begun to look to outside sources.
“We have donations that come from businesses and families in town … It’s a community effort. It’s everybody, including police, fire, everybody. If it’s something we need, we work together despite budget problems,” said Cormier.
The schools also have been working closely with the parent teacher organization.
“Our parents are wonderful,” said Cormier. “If there’s something I need, they try to work with me to make it happen.”
This is true for the classroom as well as the playground.
“Most of the materials are donated to the school through the PTO and other organizations,” Amari said of the new playground equipment. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this.”
The teachers are making sacrifices as well.
While the majority of classroom supplies are covered by the budget, Alice Riportella, who has been teaching kindergarten in the school district for the past 15 years, said some of the small touches around her room, such as art supplies, are her own belongings, donated to enrich the experiences of the children.
“(Those expenses are) out of my own pocket,” she said.
But these are lengths the faculty is willing to go to for the children’s growth and enjoyment.
“It’s so exciting to see (their) excitement,” said Riportella. “They can’t wait to go home and tell their parents what they’ve learned. They take pride in what they do … They’re like sponges. It’s amazing what they know when they leave.”
Riportella’s colleagues agree.
“We’re all in this because it’s what we love to do,” said Nissitissit Middle School Principal Diane Gleason. “We do the best we can with what we have.”