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Seven Positions Cut From Schools | Grades 5 and 6 Foreign Language Eliminated

In order to make up the $300,000 deficit facing the Wakefield Public Schools, the School Committee cut seven positions at its May 4 meeting.

Calling it a “difficult” and “educationally unsound” decision, the Wakefield School Committee voted last night to cut seven positions, including five teaching positions, from its FY2012 budget in order to bring a balanced budget to Monday night’s town meeting.

The cuts became necessary to balance the budget after it was determined $460,000 had to be cut from the overall town’s budget last week. The Board of Selectmen cut $170,000 last Monday, leaving the School Committee to cut $300,000 from its budget. To ensure unemployment payouts from layoffs were accounted for, the School Committee had to cut a total of $389,000 from its budget.

What Was Cut
Foreign language was cut from grades 5 and 6 with the elimination of two foreign language teachers at the Galvin Middle School. A Communications teacher was also cut at the Galvin Middle School. At the high school, two positions – an English teacher and a SPED guidance position – will not be refilled after those teachers retire, and an extracurricular coordinator stipend position and a wellness facilitator stipend position will be eliminated.

Two grade two teaching positions were spared from the chopping block by a higher estimation of anticipated funds from the state circuit breaker fund, although the decision on the anticipated refund rate split the committee down the middle.

School Committee Chairwoman Lisa Butler said she felt more comfortable with a 53% circuit breaker reimbursement rate.

“We’ve had to have mid-year cuts a couple of years ago,” she said.

Committee member Chris Callanan noted that Fiscal Year 2013 will also be challenging, so if a 53% rate is assumed and funding actually comes in higher, next year's budget may have more flexibility.

"There are contracts that have increases built in and we have to meet those," he said. "This could be our first step in getting that done."

School Committee Vice Chairman Thomas Markham disagreed.

"All intelligence across all of the people who are following this closely say that 60% is a conservative approach," Markham said. "It's what was in the governor's budget, and what's in House Ways and Means Committee budget."

Superintendent Joan Landers said that for the community at large, it may seem like the schools did not need these seven positions all along, but cutting these positions brings the schools below a level-service budget.

“These positions should be non-negotiable,” said Landers. “That’s why I referenced I didn’t feel this budget was educationally sound.”

Landers said she also feels for the quality educators she will have to let go.

“What was really striking to me is that over my years here, specifically as the superintendent, I see that we’re attracting really quality educators, so that was so disheartening to me,” she said, referencing the conversations she had with teachers about layoffs. “I walked to my car thinking, 'Our students aren’t going to get that opportunity.' I want you to know that it’s a very hard decision.”

School Committee member Anthony Guardia said that if the budget isn’t educationally sound, it may be something to bring up to the town at large.

“I think we have every right to have a conversation that really acts like we are one town, not a town side and a school side,” he said. “We could say, ‘These items are going to be too painful to the Wakefield School Department, and is there anything you can do to help us?’ If they come back and say we can’t make any cuts without devastating our own budgets that’s one thing, but otherwise, that’s just not right.”

Criticism from Teachers' Union
Florence Martin, president of the Wakefield Teachers Union, spoke during the beginning of the meeting to say the cuts to teaching positions will impact class size, and the portrayal of employees as “greedy” for failing to pass a new health insurance plan is particularly hurtful.

“No one is more disheartened by the position that we’re in than us,” she said.

Martin said that the proposed cuts were “disappointing on many fronts.”

“These cuts could be a loss for Wakefield for many years to come,” Martin said. “Some of these people are very skillful and dedicated, and it’s really hard to know that class sizes are going to be impacted, and that all of these things will affect student achievement,” she said.

Martin said an email was sent on April 12 asking for input from the Teachers' Union, but the proposals submitted were rejected.

 “Does this mean that the School Committee feels more capable than us to make these decisions? Let the schools take a red pen to their budget – they would know what they could live without, without directly impacting our students…. We’re asking you as the professionals to work with us with the administrators before you make these decisions that could and will devastate some of our students.”

Later on in the night, Chairwoman Butler responded to Martin’s criticism, saying she “took offense” at the thought that the school committee “thinks they know more than the administrators.”

“That’s not true,” she said. “We have our own goals, and that’s to look over the whole School Department and not just what individual administrators want,” she said. “Nobody likes these cuts. We did listen to what the administrators said and we discussed it and we looked at other areas that we thought were more appropriate and fair,” she said.

darlene stikeman May 05, 2011 at 07:58 PM
Another sad day for the entire town. If we don't spend on education...we lose all the way around.
Laurie Hunt May 05, 2011 at 08:02 PM
It is very sad. The worst of this is it all could have been avoided had the reasonable changes to healthcare brought forward by Steve Maio been passsed. ((shaking my head))
mike t May 05, 2011 at 08:15 PM
It is time the town employess paid into health care like everyone else in the private sector. They are playing a game trying to get everyone to feel sorry by cutting positions that hurt the students and not the administration. You don't see the school superintendent taking a pay cut??? All they want is a prop 2 1/2 override to build a new Jr. high (which isn't that old to begin with)and then they will want a new high school after that. Deal with what you have Wakefield. Time to tighten your belt and stand up to these antiquated unions and make them pay for healthcare like the rest of use. If you want a pay raise prove your worth, it shouldn't be automatic. You can reapair your buildings, they don't need to be replaced everytime you have a roof leak Turco.
Jeff Crump May 05, 2011 at 09:44 PM
Hey Florence Martin and the rest of the teachers union: You made this bed, you lie in it. You put yourselves ahead of the children that you purport to serve; every teacher that voted "no" deserves to be fired, IMO. Hopefully the State will take away your "veto" of these necessary health care changes so we can get back to the business of educating our children despite you. @Mike T - As frustrating as this is, there is absolutely no connection between this situation and that of the Galvin. Wakefield has been neglecting its infrastructure for so long it's pathetic. You're right that the Galvin isn't old. But since the town hasn't funded maintenance, it's falling apart. Frankly, I'm surprised no one has sued the town over it's condition. Maybe that will get people motivated to take care of it.
Marguerite Fahey May 05, 2011 at 10:05 PM
I can only reiterate Darlene's comment above. What a sad situation, indeed. And I'm shaking my head along with you, Laurie.
mike t May 06, 2011 at 01:12 AM
Jeff, I agree with your post but frankly there is a huge connection with the Galvin. Just wait and see how this will be a bargaining chip by the town to get more money out of us taxpayers. Every department will come to the table with a list of things they "had" to cut to make us bend so they can get more money from us for all these items as a whole in a prop 2 ½ override.. The Galvin is not in disrepair. Everything can be fixed and it doesn’t have to be done all at once. What makes you think a new school will be maintained in the future? They have no reason to maintain a school if they know we will fold and provide the funding for a new school every twenty years. It is smarter and greener to repair our schools and teach the town how to budget and control their spending. If the teachers and school committee really cared about our kids they would have settled the health cost issues by following the real world and paying for their health care like everyone else. Wakefield was once a great town with schools like the Montrose and Franklin schools that taught our kids well and we made them work with far less tax dollars than we have now. But we decided to sell them off at bargain prices for others to make money from. Wakefield is now an overdeveloped city that has more taxpayer’s dollars than it ever had and we have less and less of what made this place great to live. Look around people it is not the nice little town it once was and it looks like it will never be again.
Jillian Sallee May 06, 2011 at 08:37 AM
Have you ever been inside the Galvin? It is absolutely in disrepair and it is a danger to the students and teachers who work in there. The teachers inside the Galvin are some if the very best in the area and they did not make the school the state it is in right now. Our students deserve a safe place to work and learn and it is up to the town to step up and provide this for them. Disrepair is an understatement, go take a good look around.
Laurie Hunt May 06, 2011 at 11:35 AM
Mike- it has not yet been decided that there will be a new Galvin. What has been decided is there will be a feasibility study, conducted by someone outside the town, to determine if the building can be repaired or if it should be replaced. All options will be looked at. Additionally the monies will come from debt exclusion not an override. This means 1) there will be an end to the increase in taxes when the debt is paid off and 2) the money cannot and will not be used for operating/other expenses (by law) – it will be used specifically for the Galvin project. This equates to what most people do when making a large purchase such as a home – they take out a mortgage. The Galvin is certainly not 20 years old – it is more like 50/60+ years old. Any building or home that is that age needs repairs. Having said that we need to keep in mind during that era buildings were not “built like they used to be” so sometimes it makes more fiscal sense to replace – the study will determine this. The Galvin issues absolutely need to be addressed and I am confident the town is looking at all options. What is going on here with cuts to operating expenses is an entirely different issue and the two should not be confused. I also don’t understand the reference to “Turco” in your comments! One of the most thoughtful, sensible and conservative members of the Board of Selectman is Mr. Turco!
Tasha Schlake Festel May 06, 2011 at 01:52 PM
Laurie, thank you for your reasoned voice on this, as always. I agree: The issue here has NOTHING to do with the Galvin and everything to do with the recent decisions made by unions and the town budget crisis. It is an interesting time, to say the least.
Charles Festel May 06, 2011 at 05:02 PM
I'm glad to see some people commenting on the fact that the unions have put us in this position. Unfortunately, we're in this no-win situation where we have to beg the unions to pay their share or risk bankrupting the town, and then dealing with the consequences of their unwillingness to compromise. It is absolutely unbelievable and infuriating that Florence Martin would cry that people are blaming the unions and then have the audacity to try and dictate how the town should respond. Perhaps she thinks if she can evade the facts of reality that she helped cause and make an emotionalistic appeal to hurt feelings, she can distract people from what's really going on and the union's culpability in it. Essentially, she said that: 1) Although the unions -- including the teachers' union -- voted down the healthcare plan, forcing the town to cut the budget, 2) we shouldn't blame them for it because "No one is more disheartened" than they are, and to say otherwise is "hurtful," and that 3) we should be ashamed of ourselves for cutting teachers and funding because it will hurt the town. What would she have us do and who is actually hurting the town? She and her people put us in this position, and then she hopes to deny us the ability deal with it, or to dictate just what measures are appropriate to fix the mess she got us into? Completely repugnant.
Jeff Crump May 06, 2011 at 05:04 PM
"The Galvin is not in disrepair". Uh, you're wrong. Take a visit sometime -- preferably when it's raining outside. The problem, as I see it, is that a lot of people think of these buildings (Galvin, WHS, Greenwood) as they were -- not as they are. Things were done improperly in the past, that is true. But that's no reason to not do things right going forward.
Michele May 06, 2011 at 11:09 PM
I too am extremely disapointed in the vote, and the fact that even though the vote was in favor of a new plan, it didn't reach a minimum 70% "in favor" to qualify. The union members that voted "no" should be ashamed of themselves. They can now give themselves a big pat on the back as their fellow union members lose their jobs. Mike, you have no idea how appalling the Galvin is. My daughter has been in class when tiles have fallen out of the ceiling, water leaks into the classrooms when it rains. and recently they had to leave her classroom as there was an unexplained odor so vile that kids were getting sick. There is black mold in corners, on walls, and on the ceiling. The science labs are a poor excuse of a learning environment, and the building itself smells so bad that the kids all STINK when they get out. The heating system is so irregular that some of the rooms are so hot in the winter they open the windows to cool it down, and other rooms are freezing. And how can they take better care of it when every year the school has to make cuts? Where is the extra money for updates, when they can barely afford everything else? Put it this way, if you were buying a car for your wife or daughter, would you buy a beat up rusted piece of junk, and tell them to deal with it, even if it might be dangerous? Or would you want a newer updated car that will last a long time, have current technology, and keep them safe? Well, thats what we want for our families too.
lisa amerault May 07, 2011 at 01:43 PM
After reading about all the cuts made, I am quite annoyed. How much more are we going to keep taking a way from these kids? Better education, better teachers -always the proposal....how about keeping them??? LisaA.
Michael Schwepps May 07, 2011 at 05:06 PM
To those of you blaming the unions, I think you are well-intentioned but misguided. @JeffCrump - I'm a bit put off by this comment of yours: "You put yourselves ahead of the children that you purport to serve; every teacher that voted "no" deserves to be fired, IMO" I don't think that the teachers that voted "no" put themselves ahead of the students, but were just trying to hold onto the decent health care that they receive. Believe it or not, teaching is an incredibly taxing job, both in terms of workload and pay. Health care is an incentive for teachers, and why shouldn't it be? The problem is that if teaching in Wakefield becomes less appealing, we're going to lose quality teachers to other districts. The current trend, nation-wide, seems to be to blame teachers for all of the deficits we're currently dealing with. As a society, we have no problem spending money left-and-right on all sorts of projects and investing in decades-long endeavors that yield little reward. So why is it the people we trust to educate (and in many cases, parent) our children that we want to blame? As always, no easy answers.
Michele May 07, 2011 at 10:23 PM
Mike, while I understand your concern about blaming the teachers union, I would have to repectfully disagree. Wakefield is, has, and will continue to lose teachers, principals & superintendants if they do not help to improve their work environment and morale. Every year we see quality staff leave for better positions in school districts that have newer buildings and technology, and less conflict due to lack of funds. Should the teachers recieve a decent insurance plan? Sure, and they were offered one, along with the rest of the unions in town. Should it be a stellar plan that will continue to bankrupt the town? I'm thinking no. If by accepting this plan they help decrease the obscene health ins. costs, they could have saved positions and given all the budgets some wiggle room for other areas that are also lacking in funds. But, we have no idea how each union voted, as they are keeping silent on that. Which I find disturbing on many levels, considering that these expenses and salaries are funded by tax dollars. So perhaps it wasn't the teachers at all, who knows? All I know is that by voting no, they (meaning all of the unions) put their union brothers in the unemployment line. That is shameful.
Laurie Hunt May 07, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Very well said Michele. To Michael, "Hold on to decent healthcare"!? The issue was a slight increase in co-pays - just like most everyone else has dealt with. "Teaching is an incredibly taxing job"?! So is firefighting and police work and many other fields. Respectfully I need to say that argument is getting very old. Our teachers, firefighters, police, DPW workers ALL deserve to make a decent living; however, times are tough everywhere and in many professions. The days of $5 and $10 co-pays are gone. Additionally saying we will lose our teachers to other communities is getting old. Other comparable communities are dealing with the very same issues – those communities who may have the extra funds for better benefits for teachers are doing better with chapter 70 funding etc. – it has nothing to do with what Wakefield wants to do rather what we can afford to do. Also trying to cloud the issue saying society spends money left and right on projects etc. is not a valid argument to this point – that is something to argue on a state and federal level. Wakefield came up with a very reasonable offer – and the majority of the union members agreed, just not 70%.
Michael Schwepps May 08, 2011 at 12:24 AM
To Laurie - You make some solid points. I don't begrudge you that. I hope anyone reading didn't think that I meant teachers are worked harder than other town employees (fire, police, DPW, whatnot) - I think I just cited them because they are the ones being blamed for the cuts. As far as the increase in co-pays is concerned; I don't have any information in front of me right now, but I *think* I recall the proposed changes including bumping up ER co-pays from $50 to either $100 or $150 (again, I'm not sure). This might be fine for the young single teachers fresh out of college, but what about those that are supporting a family of four? Assuming that each member of this hypothetical nuclear family goes to the ER once during the ear, the out-of-pocket expense could go from $200 to $600. Again, I know my argument is potentially filled with holes and standing on some shaky premises. But my bottom line is that even in these financially strained times, it's a damn shame to cut any of our *necessary* services. The agitator seems to be that many do not see education as necessary. But as I said in my first post, there are no easy answers to be found.
Laurie Hunt May 08, 2011 at 02:13 AM
My ER co-pays are $200 and we are a family of four. It stinks but it is the reality for many families today, it is more the norm it is not unique to teachers or any town workers. It is not that I see your argument as filled with holes, you sound like an intelligent individual having a discussion. I am just frustrated that the discussion always seems to turn to what you refer to as the alligator – that people don’t value education. I have two young children; I am the daughter of a school teacher - my Dad, who was the primary breadwinner and I absolutely value education and have a lot of respect for the wonderful people who touch my children’s lives. This has nothing to do with that! I am frustrated with hearing that people don’t value education because they don’t agree with tax dollars being spent so staff doesn’t have to pay more towards their benefits. We simply cannot afford it and, again, I stress this is happening to all of us – no one is picking on educators. The proof in this is had the unions voted to approve the towns reasonable proposal we would not be making cuts. If the cuts were truly that unreasonable wouldn’t we be hearing screams from all the unions? Where is the outrage? There isn’t any, only frustration.
darlene stikeman May 08, 2011 at 02:24 AM
Michael, town employees should not be exempt from what is going on all around them. We are all feeling the pinch of the increases in health care. Try being self employed and paying higher premiums and co-pays....most families are paying $1200 or more a month to have BASIC health care insurance. It is ridiculous how much we have to pay --- but that is what it is.....However, why do we as taxpayers, who have to pay increases out of our pocket for our own health care ...then have to pay for additional health care increases for others....or if we don't our children lose out....on teachers, education and the town as a whole---if we lose a good educational services...who is going to move or stay here? Towns grow with improving educational services....if we have a town that does not preserve, enhance and improve...our town will not grow, enhance or improve....property values decrease, business decreases and plain and simple the town will not be a desirable place to move and raise a family. It is not easy --- but the solution for this problem was easy.....and it is sad. Now instead of those union members paying some extra money each...they have to say good bye to a few of their own....so not only do our students lose out....the families of those they put out of work lose out.

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