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Teachers question proposed staff cuts at BES

December 15, 2009
BARNSTEAD — Teachers and school employees arrived in force at the Barnstead School Board's Dec. 8 meeting to voice their concerns about a series of staff cuts the board recently proposed as a way to keep costs down in the face of the recession.

With every available seat in the school's media center filled, and staff members pulling chairs out of surrounding classrooms to observe the proceedings from the hallway, enrichment teacher Linda Nelson said she and her fellow faculty members had heard about the proposed budget cuts following the board's Dec. 4 budget workshop.

They were concerned, she said, about how district officials planned to address Barnstead's designation by the state as both a school and district in need of improvement (SINI/DINI) by leaving key programs, such as Title I, short-staffed.

School nurse Kathy Grillo questioned the board's proposal to eliminate the part-time registered nurse who works in her office.

Listing the wide array of services she and the RN were able to provide last year by sharing the workload, from 180 vision and hearing screenings (which resulted in 25 students being fitted with glasses) to administration of individual health plans and support and tracking services for 499 immunizations, Grillo said she had doubts about her ability to keep up with the district's health needs on her own.

Grillo also pointed out that the RN is responsible for administering medication to several students, and noted that EMTs cannot always be counted on to respond to an emergency in time.

"I don't want something tragic to happen," she said.

Sixth grade teacher Kathleen White voiced her support for retaining the RN's position, and also urged the board to re-consider the proposed elimination of one of the school's health teachers.

As a parent with a son in kindergarten, White said she was encouraged by her son's enthusiasm for his health lessons, and his willingness to bring those lessons home at the end of the day.

"You cannot underestimate the impact of a positive, creative health teacher on a scientific mind," she said, adding that the lessons her son and his classmates have been learning are creating "prime ground for their future."

As a teacher, White said she appreciated having a resource available every day that she could turn to for help in addressing health-related issues in the classroom.

Long-time Reading specialist and Reading Recovery teacher Pat Lucey, who is currently on leave for health-related reasons, said she had come to the meeting to question a proposal to eliminate four positions from the school's Title I program.

Describing herself as an advocate of early intervention who has researched the success of intensive early literacy services, Lucey suggested that the board's plan to add one literacy teacher for students in the primary grades and eliminate four of the program's early intervention tutors would be a "travesty" to at-risk students, and would have a negative impact on Reading test scores.

Urging the board to examine last year's findings of the SINI/DINI Committee's Literacy Council (which endorsed the education of all primary classroom teachers, specialists, tutors, and special education paraprofessionals in the use of the Leveled Literacy Initiative, or LLI), Lucey explained that LLI training would help the staff produce a consistent literacy language, similar to the way in which the Everyday Math program has helped to generate a consistent way of teaching Math.

Providing the audience with a brief overview of the school's Title I program, which began 19 years ago with one town-funded reading specialist, one Title I-funded reading specialist, and one tutor, and now includes a full-time reading specialist; a half-time reading recovery and half-time primary literacy teacher; and four tutors, Lucey said she felt that an early intervention model with highly qualified educators providing one-on-one or small group instruction was "essential for literacy success and academic confidence for 'at-risk' young readers."

Just as in sports, Lucey said, the more opportunities students have to practice their reading skills with tutors, teachers, peers, and volunteers, the better readers they will become.

With that in mind, she said, her questions for the board were:

-Why limit the number of trained Title I personnel to one literacy teacher and half-time reading recovery and literacy teacher, rather than three or four tutors and a half-time reading recovery/literacy teacher?

-Why train the four reading tutors, and then not benefit from their training?

-Why not implement the LLI program and train the primary staff?

Noting that enrollment in the Title I program has increased in the younger grades and dropped dramatically among older students over the past decade because of early intervention, Lucey also questioned how many more upper-level students would need services without a strong early intervention program in place.

"Please consider the young children," she said.

As the parent of a Barnstead Elementary alum who she said recently told her that the Title I program was "the only way [he] made it to junior high," paraprofessional aide Priscilla Tiede joined Lucey in urging the board to re-consider the proposed Title I cuts.

Fellow paraprofessional Judy Chase said she felt confident that parents whose children benefit from the school's Title I and health services would also come forward asking the board to re-consider when they heard of the proposed cuts.

Thanking the staff for its input, board Chairwoman Diane Beijer explained that the proposed cuts were the result of the board challenging school administrators to come up with cost-cutting recommendations.

Those recommendations, she said, were presented first to Superintendent William Compton, and then to the board's Finance subcommittee, which felt that they would demonstrate a good-faith effort on the district's part to tighten its belt in view of the recession.

"We do the best we can with what we're given to work with," she said.

Board Vice Chair Keith Couch assured the staff members present last week that the Finance Committee and district officials worked hard over the past few months to bring forward a budget "that supports the best interests of our kids."

This year, however, school officials were also worried about bringing forward a budget that the community could support, he added.

"We want to show the budget committee something that's effective, but supportable," he said, assuring the audience that decisions on what to cut and where are "hard" and are "never made in a vacuum."

The district needs to continue evolving and changing with the times, he added, and in that process, "sometimes you step on toes here and there."

As the board reviewed the proposed FY11 operating budget later in the meeting, Compton explained (at the request of board member Eunice Landry) that the Finance Committee had recommended the elimination of seven positions — the part-time registered nurse, one of the school's two Alternative program teachers, one health teacher, and four Title I tutors who, due to their positions of seniority, will take the place of four other employees elsewhere in the building.

Principal Tim Rice said there had also been discussion of hiring an additional half-time reading recovery/literacy teacher for the Title I program who would also provide "coaching" services for teachers and staff.

Business Administrator Amy Ransom explained that with the district's Title I grant funding expected to drop by 20 percent next year, there won't be enough money available to sustain the program's current staff.

"We're trying to live within our grant funds," Compton added, explaining that the only remaining option would be to roll the additional funding needed for the Title I program into the operating budget.

Rice said he felt the time had come to re-structure the school's Reading program because the existing framework has not been producing the desired results in Barnstead's NECAP scores.

"It's not about the people," he said, explaining that with the state's target scores for NECAP exams going up again next year, the re-structuring effort was an attempt to try a new approach.

The budget at a glance

Following its review of the proposed operating budget last week, the board approved a preliminary bottom line of $10,691,470.75, an increase of $187,511.06 — or 1.8 percent — over last year's figure.

The cost breakdown by function was as follows:

-Regular Education: $2,461,488.89 (a decrease of $11,120.77)

-Special Education: $1,133,134.17 (an increase of $68,273.51)

-Bilingual Education: $21,450 (an increase of $21,150)

-Gifted & Talented Education: $8,960 (a decrease of $442.10)

-Co-Curricular Activities: $18,830.57 (a decrease of $507.50)

-Athletics: $36,537.71 (a decrease of $385.31)

-Summer School: $11,104.32 (an increase of $4,641.44)

-Guidance: $148,030 (an increase of $15,103.81)

-Health Services: $68,175.19 (a decrease of $8,059.87)

-Psychological Services: $51,309.60 (an increase of $1,656.60)

-Speech/Audiology Services: $159,144.78 (an increase of $11,809.37)

-Physical and Occupational Therapy: $151,425.76 (an increase of $3,489.39)

-Improvement of Instruction: $30,350 (a decrease of $4,070.45)

-Media: $60,540.42 (an increase of $6,255.79)

-Technology: $119,948.65 (a decrease of $7,330.02)

-School Board: $54,391 (an increase of $4,000)

-Superintendent's Office: $327,933.66 (an increase of $7,999.61)

-Principal's Office: $471,642.27 (a decrease of $5,865)

-Building Maintenance: $543,515.58 (an increase of $24,997.33)

-Transportation: $316,355.85 (a decrease of $5,913.34)

The bottom line figure approved last week does not include any appropriations from Warrant articles that will be presented to district voters in March.

Next meeting

The board's next meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 22, at 6 p.m. in the elementary school media center.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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