Parents flunk proposal for staffing cuts in ’17 school spending plan
Footsteps echoed in Staples High School’s cafeteria Tuesday night as a parade of parents marched to the podium to tell the Board of Education that Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon’s plan for staff cuts in the proposed $113.4 million budget should be reversed.
The staff cuts, which Landon says would save $415,355 in the spending plan he recommended for the 2016-17 fiscal year, call for removing all bus monitors with the exception of those supporting special education students; eradicating all stipends at the middle school level for team leader and special area liaison positions; eliminating four full-time paraprofessional jobs that would leave no third-grade paraprofessionals, and reducing grade-level assistants at Staples High School by two.
The board listened to the parents as it continued its review of the budget proposal, with a 2.03 percent increase over this year’s budget of about $111.2 million.
Landon made clear at the outset of the meeting that the motivating factor behind the staff cuts is an attempt to meet budget limits suggested by the Board of Finance. "Let me say the reason I proposed all of these was to try and bring in the budget at 1.5 percent,” he said, “and I did not touch building projects and maintenance, as I always have in the past, because there appeared to be a feeling on the part of the Board of Finance and the Board (of Education) that that was pretty important since we had spent so much on it last year and we need to maintain our buildings."
The staff spending cuts, he added, don’t “necessarily reflect what my priorities would be."
Board Secretary Elaine Whitney explained how crucial she believes middle school team leaders and liaisons are on a daily basis: "I think both positions are incredibly valuable … to me it’s not an extra staff member." She went on to say, "That time with students on the ground, day-to-day, to both spot potential issues and to help implement changes and work directly with the students in a way that would be much more difficult for someone one step removed from the classroom could do. So I see a large amount of value in those positions and the cost is relatively small compared to the impacts."
STAFF CUTS GLOSSARY
As part of Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon’s proposed 2016-17 budget, he proposes to remove all school bus monitors with the exception of those supporting special education students; eliminate stipends at the middle school level for team leader and special area liaison positions; cut four full-time paraprofessional jobs, reduce by two the number of grade-level assistants at Staples High School.
Here are brief job descriptions for those positions:
School bus monitors work to ensure students are safe while they are riding the bus, when they enter and exit the bus, maintain order, and also help with traffic.
Team leaders support students who need academic, emotional or social support. They are all teachers who work at the middle schools full time and receive a stipend for the additional team leader responsibilities.
Paraprofessionals help teachers when the students break into subject-specific groups, such as math or writing, to provide more personal instruction.
Grade-level assistants serve as the chief liaisons between a Staples assistant principal and students in the grade for which he/she is responsible. The proposed cut would leave two grade-level assistants and two secretaries to help the high school’s four assistant principals.
If the middle school team leaders and liaisons were to be cut, total savings would be $128,355.
Board member Karen Kleine, who as a parent has interacted with team leaders, said, "I really think they do a great job of managing the whole workload of the team. I remember in middle school, if a kid has two or three tests on the same day, and you’re in sixth grade, it’s the worst thing that can ever happen. So the team leaders work to make sure those tests are not on the same day because they are aware of everyone’s workload."
"I have had a lot of direct and impactful relations with my team leaders which has prevented some difficult and challenging things from occurring," said parent Lilly Bloomingdale.
When the focus shifted to the possible third-grade paraprofessional cuts, board Chairman Michael Gordon pointed out that "of the different recommended cuts, this is the one that’s in the classroom … this isn’t what we stand for as a board cut."
Kleine noted there are a couple of elementary where projected enrollment in third-grade classes appears to reflect growth. Whitney added that eliminating the paraprofessionals could trigger a domino effect where their loss would over-extend other staff members.
"They know our children," parent Michele Carey-Moody told the board. "They know what’s going on on the playground and at lunch. That paraprofessional can pull the student aside and help resolve situations before they blow up into something bigger. We’ve paid to have these paraprofessionals trained in Singapore math, in the writing curriculum, in the reading curriculum and to take those personnel away it seems like we’re spending money on training and not using it."
Paraprofessional cuts would result in a savings of $108,000.
When it came to grade-level assistants at Staples, Landon said that with reduction of two grade-level assistants there still would be two secretaries and two remaining grade-level assistants to help the school’s four assistant principals.
Kleine said that as the high school population increases, the need for the assistants is greater. Smith cited Staples’ coming year of transition in both the superintendent and principal positions as a reason to keep the grade-level assistants.
This cut would save the district $54,000.
Safety was the primary concern among board members and the public with regard to cutting bus monitors. Landon said that bus monitors were not as instrumental as they have been in years past because of technological advancements, such as on-board safety cameras and television monitors. Explaining the cut, Landon said "It seemed a good time to save the money and run our buses, as every other district in Connecticut does, and that is without monitors."
Bus monitor cuts would reduce $125,000 in spending.
The Board of Education expects to vote Feb. 1 on the proposed staff cuts.