School board refuses to give up on middle school math tutors

School board refuses to give up on middle school math tutors

New CTA contract not disclosed as committee continues review

CUMBERLAND - School Committee members, overruling the recommendation of Supt. Philip Thornton last week, agreed to dip into their dwindling surplus fund to keep a new math tutor in each middle school this fall.

Cutting the tutors was one of several reductions proposed by Thornton as school administrators slimmed down their planned 2013-14 spending to make up for the $202,901 gap in funds not appropriated by the town, and the $597,849 in teacher and staff retirement contributions miscalculated in the original school budget.

At the same special meeting on June 25, school board members reviewed but held the new Cumberland Teachers Association three-year contract.

Thornton later told The Breeze, "I'm optimistic" about its passage.

CTA members have already ratified the contract.

Thornton said he had led a team of negotiators who took their instruction directly from the school board.

While Thornton declined to discuss it prior to official signing - scheduled currently for July 11 - The Breeze has learned the contract freezes step and salary increases for the first two years, then provides for a 4 percent increase in the third year. Among other changes, the contract also decreases the extra pay to teachers who secure advanced degrees, and trims their life insurance.

School board members also tabled renewal of contracts for administrators, who are budgeted for raises in the $3,000 range. Cuts in the extra pay to teachers for advanced degrees will mean a cut for administrators, too.

The reconciliation list of adjustments for school spending was a lengthy one based on personnel cuts and the savings in step increases and advance degree compensation in the new CTA contract.

School board members agreed to all, except when it came to math tutors.

Jeff Mutter, who heads the committee's Fiscal Management subcommittee, has been advocating for math tutors since Donna Morelle was superintendent. Elementary schools got theirs last year, and four were initially budgeted for the middle and high schools this coming year.

His committee members said they'd give up on the high school since new remedial math courses are being offered, but they'd rather dip deeper into their surplus account than give up on the two going to the middle schools.

Said member Paul Dimodica, "Eliminating the math tutors really troubles me. We have a lot of problems with math, especially right now." Dimodica noted that math scores in Cumberland begin to fall off in middle school.

Agreed Mutter, "We're between a rock and hard place. They want to fund results but we're taking out the positions that lead to results."

Adjustments to the fund balance freed up $72,000 of the $140,000 need to cover two tutors' salaries and benefits. The remaining funds are coming out a health care claims line item.

The budget that concluded on June 30 consumed $1 million of surplus funds, said Business Manager Alex Prignano, leaving $2.5 million, of which $1.1 million is considered "undesignated."

The new budget demands $670,000 in one-time revenues, he said, including $350,000 more from the fund balance.

Laid off or not hired in the reconciled budget were: one-half position in the high school library that reduces the staff to one and one-half librarians; the two high school math interventionists; an English teacher and the pool manager, as well as reduced hours for a physical education instructor, a technician and clerk.

About 12 or 13 teachers remained on the layoff list following the committee's executive session, members said.

More budget adjustments are expected at the July 11 meeting.