School Committee Approves $1 Million Layoff Plan 

by | May 29, 2020

Photo credit: Ray Johnson.

Supt. Meyer said this gives her most flexibility in case of drastic state and local aid cuts; no one has been laid off yet.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

In compliance with state law, which requires that school districts alert employees about the possibility of layoffs for the coming school year by June 1, the School Committee Friday morning voted to approve a list of possible layoffs and job eliminations that in total would save the district more than $1 million. The vote was 5 to 2 in favor of the recommendation, with committee members Matt Plain and Anne Musella voting no. 

“There is nothing here that I want to be saying,” said Supt. Alexis Meyer as she started to list what she had identified as cuts the district might have to take if COVID-19-related reductions of as much as $1.2 million in state and town aid come to pass. 

The proposed layoffs: 

  • 2 library media specialists (those with the least seniority)
  • 1 PE/health teacher at Cole
  • 1 chorus teacher at EGHS (a part time position)
  • 1 French teacher at EGHS (a part time position)
  • 1 board certified behavior analyst (BCBA)

Instructors who would be “displaced” (their jobs would be eliminated or changed but they could apply for another job in the district):

  • 1 Grade 1 teacher at Meadowbrook 
  • 1 PE/Health/Adaptive PE teacher at Hanaford and Eldredge (a part time position)
  • 4 library media specialists (these 4 LMS’s would have to cover 6 schools)
  • 1 mentor coordinator (resulting in the elimination of the Strategic Mentoring Program) 
  • 1 social studies teacher at EGHS (a part time position)
  • 1 senior project coordinator 

Positions that would remain unfilled:

  • 1 secretary at EGHS
  • 1 special ed teacher at Eldredge (closing a self-contained classroom there)
  • 1 office paraprofessional at Eldredge
  • 1 finance director (keep job vacant for first six months of the year)
  • 1 paraprofessional at Hanaford
  • 1 special ed resource teacher at Frenchtown
  • 1 psychologist at Meadowbrook (a new part time position)
  • 1 business math teacher at Cole 

Additional cuts:

  • No 2 percent raise for all administrators and non-union central office employees 
  • 2 percent salary decrease (for 2021) for Supt. Meyer

You can find Meyer’s document here: EGSD Recommended Cuts 5/29/20.

Programs such as sports or other extracurriculars were not under discussion Friday but that does not mean they, too, won’t be part of the conversation. The cuts outlined by Meyer take the district most but not all of the way the district might have to go. Meyer said she would be offering programmatic cuts at the School Committee meeting Tuesday. 

State education aid to East Greenwich, pre-pandemic, had been forecast at $3.4 million. Meyer said state officials seemed to be leaning toward a 10 percent across-the-board cut in education aid. For East Greenwich, that would be in the vicinity of $300,000. Meanwhile, the Town Manager’s proposed budget cuts what the School Committee had asked for by $800,000. Nothing is firm yet and several School Committee members complained about having to make take this vote with so many unknowns. 

School Committeewoman Anne Musella, in particular, expressed her frustration that more wasn’t done on the state level to push back the June 1 date to July 1, noting that School Committee members could be doing more to lobby on the state level. She also noted that of the nearly 200 people watching the meeting Friday, she did not see any of the town’s three state legislators in attendance. 

Musella also said the committee should have had more information about where the district stood in terms of the current year’s budget – was there going to be money left over that could help in making decisions for next year? 

“I don’t want to spitball layoff notices and not have the information,” she said. 

Meyer said the district was looking at a possible surplus of $700,000 to $800,000 this year, largely due to the school closure in March. (For example, the district will spend around $300,000 less on transportation this year and there will be about an $110,000 savings in supplies, Meyer said.)

But the cut in state aid could be larger than $300,000. Committeeman Jeff Dronzek has suggested it could be as high as $500,000, if it’s calculated on previous aid amounts to the district. And the budget passed by the School Committee in March already relies on using $580,000 in surplus money for operating expenses.

Dronzek argued for giving Meyer as much room to maneuver as possible – and that meant giving her a wide array of options to choose from when the district learns the real budget numbers later next month. 

“We have to meet this deadline and if we don’t we’re out of options. We make those decisions and then we do our best to reverse these decisions,” he said. 

During public comment Frenchtown teacher and union representative Donna McFee said, “We are also with you in the sincere hope that our finances will help us to preserve the long term health of our school district.” 

She said the union was grateful for the open communication with Supt. Meyer. 

Nicole Bucka, a parent speaking on behalf of the Special Education Advisory Committee, said students with special needs would suffer if the special education cuts were made. That would be particularly cruel after the difficulties faced by special needs students because of distance learning, she said. And, she said, just as collective bargaining agreements are legally binding, so are I.E.P.s. 

Parent Sharon Siedliski asked about extracurricular programs like sports. 

“We’re cutting educational needs and I’m not sure how we can not talk about [extracurriculars] when we’re talking about special ed and library media specialists,” she said. After the meeting, Committeeman Dronzek said it wasn’t that extracurriculars weren’t on the table – they will be – but they weren’t part of the June 1 layoff notice deadline so they will be addressed probably at Tuesday’s meeting.

The initial motion by Anne Musella would have restored the two library media specialists, the behavior specialist, and the part time school psychologist. Committeeman Matt Plain amended the motion to also restore the special education cuts, but that motion failed in a 3-4 vote, with Committeewoman Alyson Powell joining Musella and Plain. 

Vice Chair Lori McEwen then made a motion to approve Meyer’s recommendations as is, which was seconded by Dronzek. It passed 5-2, with Powell joining McEwen, Dronzek, Chair Carolyn Mark and Gene Quinn. Almost immediately after the vote, Powell said she regretted voting in favor and wanted it recorded that she would have preferred to have voted against the plan. 

“No final decisions will be made until the end of June,” said Mark in closing the meeting. She encouraged viewers to “continue with your advocacy at multiple levels of government.”

The School Committee meets in regular session via Zoom on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Find the agenda (including links to the meeting) here: School Committee Agenda 6/2/20.

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