April 15, 2013

Public asks RSU 14 to preserve position by Leah Hoenen

Parents and community members called on the Board of Directors of RSU 14 to continue to fund teaching and education technician positions that could be cut in the fiscal year 2014 budget. They say the positions are essential to maintain the level of service students and the community currently enjoy from schools and programs.

If approved as presented, the $39.8 million proposed budget would eliminate or reduce the time of several positions across the district. The board held a public forum on the budget Wednesday, April 3.

Windham resident Michelle Jordan opened comments, saying that last year a teacher was added to the fourth grade at Manchester School. She questioned the decision to reduce a teaching position in the fifth grade as the fourth-grade class prepares to move up. “We added a teacher when the third grade went into fourth this year. Have we lost population or is this to cut costs?” she asked.

Jordan said last time federal Title 1 funds were cut, threatening the positions of education technicians, the board decided to keep funding those positions. “I ask you to consider making the same choice to not make cuts,” she said.

District Superintendent Sandy Prince said that, based on projections, Manchester would have 22 students per class in fourth grade and 23 students per class in fifth grade next year, which is within the board policy recommendation for class size.

Windham resident Barb Maurais said, “I’m concerned about a reduction in person power combined with large class sizes.” Maurais, an employee of Manchester School, referred to potentially larger sizes at that school if the budget passes as presented; Manchester might lose a Title 1-funded education technician as well, she said.

“People’s caseloads are already pretty high. I’m struggling to understand what that might look like,” said Maurais, noting that it might lead to fewer students receiving services. “I expect a certain level of service, and I’m not sure this budget supports it,” she said.

Raymond resident Jen Moore said the proposed reduction of a fourth-grade teaching position at Raymond Elementary School (RES) would have a big effect on that school. “In Raymond, because we’re small, cutting one teacher is not adding one pupil to each class, it’s adding five. In one class it’s eight,” she said.
After the forum, RES Principal Randy Crockett said the current fourth-grade class has 16 to 17 students per teacher. With one fewer teacher next year, fourth grade classrooms would likely see 23 students per teacher, he said. 

Crockett said that ratio does not account for educational technicians, special education technicians and other instructors who work with students during the day. “It’s not going to be 23 kids all day. The class could have 15 to 16 students depending on who is getting extra support during the day,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fine. I know the parents of our third grade group have concerns and some of the kids in that group have high needs. We have supports in place and their needs will be met,” Crockett said.

Moore also spoke at the March 31 cost-center presentation and, at the public forum, said she felt that comments at that meeting were heard, but that it was all for show.  
Board member Kate Brix later responded that it is untrue to say the board does not listen. “Your input is the most important thing,” she said, noting that she was unaware of some details about elementary classes she heard during public comment and planned to ask for more information.

Board member Toby Pennels agreed. “We listen. We listen a lot. We three have sat through 12 budgets and we’ve never passed a budget as they presented it,” he said.

Darren Rogers, of Raymond, spoke in support of a teacher whose position is one of those proposed to be eliminated. Praising her work in the classroom, he said, “I was kind of looking forward to a parent coming up to me on the sidelines of a soccer game and asking, ‘Who did your kid have in third grade?’ and me being able to say [her].”

Assistant Superintendent Donn Davis said teachers are categorized by impact areas, such as science or social studies, but also by grade level. Teachers have seniority based on when they signed their contracts, he said. In the contracts signed when Windham and Raymond schools merged, additional language was added to help the district retain the most highly-qualified teachers based on certifications and performance, he said. 

Davis said teachers who are given reduction-in-force (RIF) notices, have the right to return as long as they qualify for a position opened by another teacher retiring. He said the board is contemplating a type of bonus that those who qualify for retirement could consider taking.

Tom Bartell, Windham resident and town economic development director, called on the board to maintain a full-time career pathways position in the Adult Education program. The Adult Education budget proposes reducing that position to four-fifths time. 

Bartell said the work accomplished by the person in that position has strongly supported economic development in the community, and the move to part time could reduce those accomplishments. “We’ll be taking away that momentum of Adult Ed taking its rightful place in workforce development. Workforce development is a really major element of economic development,” Bartell said.

Board member Mike Duffy responded, “We get recommendations from directors and department heads of where cuts should be made. If I had my choice, I would not pick that.” He said the reduction in the Adult Ed budget was $12,600, which Brix said delivers a big bang for the buck in terms of services and economic development.

Jordan also asked the board to preserve plans for the Manchester playground project in the budget.

Brix said the district administrators meet together to discuss the budget. “When the budget is developed, it’s really a collaborative effort. It’s not about their building, it’s what’s best for the district,” she said.

The board will vote on the budget Wednesday, April 24.

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