12 jobs targeted in Spaulding budget cutting effort
BARRE — All or parts of a dozen positions at Spaulding High School could officially be axed tonight when school directors finalize the budget they’ll put before voters.
Though some board members expressed concern over the depth of the proposed cuts Monday night, none disputed the need to put a dent in the 12 percent increase reflected in the earliest draft of the budget that voters in Barre and Barre Town will be asked to approve in March.
The plan presented by school administrators Monday night would do that, carving an estimated $800,000 from the $1.4 million spending increase that was originally proposed.
Proposed staffing reductions range from eliminating one of the school’s 11 English teachers and a portion of a science teacher position to cutting a secretary and a custodian.
Board members were told special education would not be spared in what has become an annual attempt to cut costs in that area by modifying the way services are delivered. A full-time special educator, a behavioral interventionist and four paraprofessionals who work exclusively with special-needs students would all be cut under the plan, outlined by Principal Tom Sedore.
According to Sedore, the equivalent of two other half-time positions — one that provides support in the library and another a technology education instructor — would be cut as part of what he characterized as a “painful” attempt to balance the educational needs of a shrinking student body with the concerns of property taxpayers in Barre and Barre Town.
“Though these decisions have been difficult, we feel we can maintain the academic offerings for our students and the academic integrity to move Spaulding High School forward during tough financial times,” he said.
Sedore’s assessment kicked off a discussion during which board members Tommy Walz and Carlotta Simonds-Perantoni expressed their unease with the severity of the proposed personnel cuts.
“Wow, we’re cutting a lot of staff,” said Walz, who noted that despite declining enrollment Spaulding’s per-pupil spending is still well below the average for similarly sized Vermont high schools.
“Clearly this district has never been extravagant,” he said. “The voters ought to know we’re spending a lot less than other schools our size.”
Walz said he worried the school will eventually pay a price for what has become a pattern of shrinking its faculty.
“We’re cutting staff every year, and at some point it’s really got to hurt,” he said.
Simonds-Perantoni said it arguably already has. Citing sagging standardized test scores and the fact that Spaulding has been red-flagged for school improvement, she argued the board should think twice before cutting teachers, special educators or even a custodian.
Simonds-Perantoni said she was particularly concerned about the proposed elimination of the English teacher and troubled by the recommendation to cut five special education positions at a time when it appears the demand for those services is on the upswing.
“It just does not mesh for me,” she said. “I don’t feel that the cutting of 12 positions is a student-centered decision.”
However, Sedore defended the proposed staff reductions — which he admitted weren’t optimal — as reflecting a measured response to an unusually sharp spike in expenses that are beyond the board’s control.
Sedore cited negotiated pay raises for teachers, a double-digit increase in health insurance costs, expenses associated with a recently approved roof replacement project and an increase in the assessment to the Barre Supervisory Union.
With costs climbing and enrollment heading in the other direction, Chairwoman Norma Malone said strategic staffing reductions were warranted at the two-town, 750-student union high school.
“We have seen our enrollment drop precipitously over the last few years,” Malone said. “That has to be taken into consideration at some point.”
Malone said no one was “comfortable” with the $12.7 million first draft of the budget.
The cuts proposed by Sedore bring the bottom line below the $12 million mark while limiting the projected spending increase to comfortably below 6 percent.
Board members discussed a number of last-minute adjustments Monday night, and its finance committee was supposed to review those changes in more detail Tuesday night.
Perhaps the most notable change involved trimming $100,000 from the first payment on the roof replacement project. That adjustment, which was suggested by Malone, stems from the fact that the project will be completed over two construction seasons and only half of the money will be borrowed in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The board is scheduled to adopt the budget — as well as the Town Meeting Day warnings — during a special meeting at 6 p.m.
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