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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.

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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