In the Face of Potential Job Cuts, Newton Public Schools Community Takes a Stand

Ayesha Farag, NPS assistant superintendent for elementary education, and Toby Romer, NPS assistant superintendent for secondary education and special programs, outlined the specific impacts of the potential cuts during a school board meeting Monday night.

The proposed cuts also affect teachers in the arts, music, physical education and library fields, according to Farag.

A decrease in elementary school enrollment of 42 students resulted in a planned reduction or elimination of a total of 11 full-time equivalent (FTE) elementary teachers, 1.8 elementary specialist teachers FTE, 0, 5 FTE Elementary Administrators and 1 FTE Kindergarten Helper, based on an NPS budget Overview.

One FTE is equivalent to someone working 40 hours per week, and 0.5 FTE means someone working 20 hours per week.

“These are not cuts we would be offering but for the financial circumstances we find ourselves in this year,” Farag said.

The budget shortfall, according to Farag, could also limit tutoring for elementary students and lengthen class time needed for assessments due to reduced enrollment, Farag said.

Romer said low enrollment at Bigelow Middle School is one of the reasons the district needs to eliminate 11.8 FTEs, including the elimination of literacy intervention positions and a reduction in teaching positions. intervention in mathematics. These positions, according to Romer, allow for personalized, one-on-one tutoring for students who may have more difficulty with course material than other students.

Sarah Sossong, a mother, told Heights at the rally that her kindergarten son benefited from speech therapy at Mason-Rice Elementary School and received an incredible education.

“That’s actually one of the reasons we didn’t get him to go to private schools — they didn’t have those kinds of resources,” Sossong said.

The Newton North Career & Technical Education (CTE) program will experience a staff reduction of 0.8 FTEs, according to the NPS. presentation Monday evening.

The Newton North CTE is a vocational program, offering students the opportunity to explore careers in areas such as graphic design, automotive technology and culinary arts, according to Mike Schlegelmilch, an English teacher at Newton North High School.

“Once you phase out a program like that, it’s really hard to bring it back,” Schlegelmilch said in an interview at the rally. “I fear these cuts will really hurt the school system in ways that will be hard to fix and will take a long time to rebuild.”

Rebecca Maxfield, a psychologist at the Newton Early Childhood Program, also pointed to the benefits of more individualized learning for struggling students.

“It seems to be mostly advice, literacy help and math help – all the extras that some of our really vulnerable kids need to get that extra help, especially after COVID” , Maxfield said of the programs most likely to take the biggest hit following the cuts.

Many other teachers at the rally agreed with Maxfield that students are struggling after dealing with learning disruptions. Katie Carlson, a first-grade teacher at Day Elementary School, said teachers’ jobs are getting harder, not easier, now that the city and the NPS have begun easing COVID-19 restrictions.

“Children come to us with significant learning deficits and socio-emotional needs that they didn’t have before,” Carlson said. “And the funding is going out instead of coming in. And people aren’t paying as much attention to it anymore because the acute fear of COVID is gone, but the scars haven’t gone for our purposes.”

Jackie Mann, principal of FA Day Middle School, spoke about her personal experience at the school committee meeting.

“I anticipate that we will experience [those gaps in learning] not just next year, but years after with this lack of continuity,” Mann said. “Our teachers have been working very hard – I would use the word heroic – over the past few years…thinking about [how teachers help with] the diverse needs of the students in front of them.

Carlson said the cuts discourage highly skilled, educated and caring people from entering the teaching field. Teaching involves a lot of physical labor and technical expertise, she said, but teachers are not given the respect they deserve as professionals.

“I don’t think everyone in education should be a martyr who has to sacrifice their well-being because they care about the kids,” Carlson said. “And the government benefits from it, the government as a whole benefits from the way teachers care about children.”

Schools have made progress in recent years in diversifying their workforces, Schlegelmilch said, which means many recently hired teachers are teachers of color.

“Another way these cuts are really impacting, much like the most vulnerable people in our building, is a lot of educators of color whose positions are at risk,” Schlegelmilch said. “And that’s terrible for students of color because we want a workforce that reflects our student body.”

After circling Newton City Hall, rally attendees returned to the grassy area in front of the Newton War Memorial to listen to NTA President Michael Zilles address the crowd.

“I have to say, this community has come together in a way that I haven’t seen in my 12 years at the NTA,” Zilles said.

After Zilles’ speech, Max Page, vice president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, also addressed the crowd. Page said the rally represented the participants’ commitment to students and teachers.

“I will say the beautiful thing is when parents, students and unionized educators come together to defend the common good and the most fundamental foundation of democracy, which are your public schools,” Page said.

Rally attendees included members of the Newton community of all ages, from parents with children in strollers to elementary school students with their backpacks, middle schoolers holding homemade neon signs to first-grade faculty members. year and holders.

Although Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller did not attend the rally, she issued a statement on the potential job cuts in her newsletter on Friday. She attended three school committee meetings throughout the week.

The City of Newton transferred more than $14 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to the NPS, with most of that money coming from facility improvements and COVID-19-related expenses, such as upgrades. level of ventilation, according to the statement. .

The city of Newton has received about $63 million through ARPA, of which $28.3 million has been used or allocated so far, according to the city. website. Newton still has about $34.7 million in funds to spend.

Fuller wrote that the city should not use ARPA funds in order to avoid staff cuts, calling it a risky financial move. At Thursday’s meeting, Fuller also said that using ARPA funds to fill the NPS budget gap would not be a responsible or appropriate thing to do.

Page, however, said the city shouldn’t set aside the funds for the long term.

“I believe you hear the word – the phrase – ARPA, which stands for American Rescue Plan Act, not the American law ‘reserved for the long term plan,’” he said. “Rescue [and] the emergency is about now.

Zilles also criticized how Fuller and the city used ARPA funds, as crowd members cheered and waved their signs.

“We know where the problem is: the problem is a mayor who doesn’t fully fund schools,” he said. “We know the problem is a mayor not only not releasing the funding that exists, the ARPA funding to help us get through this crisis. What created this crisis? She created this crisis.

Fuller wrote in the statement that these are difficult times and expressed regret that he had to make faculty and staff cuts in order to balance the NPS budget.

It’s painful for the people in these roles, painful for our community who want resources not to be a constraint, painful after two difficult years of COVID, and painful as we realize enrollment trends can lead to tougher choices,” she wrote.

At the end of the three-day budget review, Ward 5 Newton School Committee member Emily Prenner presented a resolution calling the budget a negative development for schools in the city.

“Therefore, the school board decides that the current budget allocation is not sufficient to operate our schools without negatively impacting our children,” she wrote in the resolution.

After comments in favor of the resolution from Christopher Brezski, Ward 2 School Committee member, and Kathleen Shields, Ward 7 School Committee member, the resolution passed with no dissent except for a vote of Abstention from Fuller.

The school committee will meet again on April 4, in a trial vote on the budget, time permitting, or it will be held on April 6. The final vote on the budget will take place on April 11.

Community members will be able to voice their opinions again on April 4 at a public hearing ahead of the school committee meeting that day.

Many teachers at the rally called on the mayor and city officials to hear their views, stop potential cuts and allocate more funds to schools.

“When you’re not sure you’ll have a job next year and you have a family to support, you have to go find work elsewhere,” Schlegelmilch said. “Some of our most promising initiatives in terms of diversifying our workforce are going to be canceled and we risk losing a lot of talent. ”

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