Emotions High During Personnel Debates

Written by Administrator
 | Sunday, 27 January 2008 19:49
When people’s jobs are on the line, the debate over what to keep and what to cut is always tense and Wednesday’s discussion regarding school positions was no exception. When people’s jobs are on the line, the debate over what to keep and what to cut is always tense and Wednesday’s discussion regarding school positions was no exception.

The tone was set early by committee member John Magnarelli, who was the first one to speak after Superintendent Eileen Williams presented her proposed budget, which included no cuts to professional development days for teachers.

Magnarelli took exception to previous statements by Williams that cutting one professional day could be a feasible option and then saying Wednesday night that her decision not to cut one of these days was based in part on parents’ feedback on preserving MCAS scores, which she said teacher development can aid.  She also noted that after consulting School Counsel Robert Fraser, he indicated it may cost the school system more to defend the cut in possible litigation from the teachers’ union.

“Professional development should have never been on the table,” said Magnarelli to Williams.  “You brought it up originally and said it would be easy to do ñ next year, do your homework.”

Chairwoman Carol Love advised Magnarelli to “remain dignified” and said that it was not time for an ambush on Williams.

“I don’t think I’m out of line ñ she told us it would be easy to do and then tells us a letter from Fraser says it’s crazy,” Magnarelli answered.

Another recommendation by Williams was to not replace two retiring Family and Consumer Sciences teachers at Duxbury High School and Duxbury Middle School, essentially eliminating the programs at both schools.  Williams said that a “healthy living” component would be added to the middle school health curriculum and that there were several other electives for DHS students to choose from if the Breadboard program was eliminated.

Committee member John Heinstadt made a motion to put salaries back in the budget for the program, based on feedback the group received last year about how much the lessons learned in this instruction meant to parents and students alike.

After hearing from DHS principal John McCarthy and DMS principal JoEllen Scannell about how these lessons would be still be taught without the Family and Consumer Sciences program, Heinstadt voiced his own concern.

“With all due respect to Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Scannell, we are talking about taking Family and Consumer Sciences, which is a very successful program, and incorporating it into a health curriculum that is at best controversial,” he said.

Heinstadt’s motion to reinstate the course was passed 3-2 with Love and Neil Johnson voting in opposition.  The reinstatement means that while the schools will hire two new teachers, they will not do so at the current teacher’s salaries, but instead at around $40,000 for each staff member.

Heinstadt also made a motion to reinstate a media clerk position at DHS recommended to be cut by Williams.  After hearing from Charlie Vautrain, who runs the media department, on how valuable the clerk is to assisting him, the committee voted unanimously to reinstate the $10,000/year position.

The budget hammer did fall on the Elementary World Language program, however, which Williams recommended keeping, but decreasing first and kindergarten instruction to add lessons in second grade.

A few members showed their concern for spreading out the program, decreasing the time each grade received instruction as opposed to simply cutting it entirely.

After a motion by Heinstadt to eliminate the program failed 3-2 earlier in the night, the program became a casualty of trying to balance the budget in the fifth hour of debate, passing by a 3-2 margin and saving $49,000.

Two other debates broke out regarding personnel, specifically the replacement of a retiring first grade teacher and the future of the assistant superintendent position for the school department.

Magnarelli made a motion to not backfill a retiring first grade teacher position with a new teacher, even though it would increase the class size by approximately two students per class.  There was some confusion over whether what grade a new teacher would be hired for, with committee member Paul Desmond indicating that this was a major factor in his vote whether it would help first grade, and class size there, or another elementary grade.

Williams said that her budget proposed a first grade of 12 classes at a size of 21.2 students and that was her goal.  The motion to not replace the retiring teacher failed, 4-1 with Magnarelli the only vote in favor.

Another source of confusion was the fate of the Assistant Superintendent position, with the impending retirement of John Kerrigan next year.  In her budget, Williams proposed eliminating a curriculum coordinator position at $83,000, yet keeping the assistant superintendent position. She said this position carries with it various jobs, from overseeing special education to handling MCAS preparation and improvements.

Kerrigan spoke about what he called a happy coincidence that his retirement was coming at a time when the department could save money, but that the schools still needed someone to oversee “quality control” in the schools.

Recognizing the contributions Kerrigan has given the school department, Magnarelli made two motions to eliminate this position and reinstate the curriculum coordinator instead ñ a savings of approximately $12,000 -  with both motions failing.

Williams said Magnarelli was “playing with numbers” without looking at the work to be done. Both Magnarelli and Heinstadt replied that they had been under the assumption for months that Williams would be cutting the assistant superintendent position in her budget.

Williams denied this and said she was cutting an administrative position and didn’t think anything she said indicated that it would be Kerrigan’s post.

Magnarelli contended that Williams was incorrect and said that the move to keep the assistant superintendent position, while also reorganizing duties unbeknownst to the committee was “outrageous and outlandish.”

Love said that the future of filling Kerrigan’s post would be discussed by the committee in March.

Other personnel decisions included in next year’s budget include funding a Substance Abuse Counselor for DHS, replacing the Marching Band with a voluntary Pep Band and a stipend of $3,000 for two advisors and eliminating the merit pool pay for administrators.