CUMBERLAND – With a passing second and final vote by the Town Council setting the school budget, the Cumberland School Committee must consider potential staffing cuts after not receiving their full increase ask.
Speaking before the Town Council June 6, Supt. Phil Thornton said the school district had been looking to add 3.2 teachers at the high school and a .2 science position to account for an increase in student population.
Among other recommendations to achieve this cut, Thornton told the council the district will need to consider cutting up to five teachers at McCourt Middle School. This would net roughly $300,000 toward overall cuts, and would result in larger class sizes similar to those at North Cumberland Middle School.
Meeting with the School Committee, aside from member Kerry Feather who was absent, on June 9, Thornton said this class size change could negate the purpose of previous conversations regarding school boundary line changes. The conversation on boundary changes has been driven, primarily, by an interest in creating even class sizes at the two district middle schools. Should the School Committee accept the budget amount set by the council’s passing of the budget, the removal of staff and increased McCourt class sizes “would kind of nullify the idea of changing the boundary to normalize the sizes,” Thornton said.
“Right now, if you look at the numbers, you might be around 18 in a room … and if you made the reductions you’d be in the mid-20s,” Thornton said of this change.
Despite the pending cuts, McCourt Principal Jay Masterson said faculty held a recent meeting regarding the changes and “one of the first conclusions” attendees came to was that they in fact were in need of more teachers.
“...I’m just going to be completely honest, especially to address the needs that are coming into our school next year,” Masterson said. “But obviously we understand where we are, and we’re going to continue to meet.”
He said they planned to create a teaching model based on existing staff to determine which areas are most in need of being addressed. According to Masterson, a group will meet each quarter of the next school year to assess the success of the new model and needed changes as they move forward.
“It’s definitely very much a team approach, and we want to close that achievement gap no matter what scenario we’re working with with staffing,” Masterson said.
Speaking further to changes required to balance the budget, Thornton and school administrators said the budget has a high school overage line item, which is used to pay out a dollar amount for teachers with classrooms larger than contracted sizes. If the school district hires the 3.2 teachers, he said there would be less of a need to utilize these overage funds which could lead to roughly $50,000 in savings. Among other changes, Thornton mentioned an adjustment to busing contracting to reduce by two buses in the district for roughly $100,000 in savings.
Committee member Denis Collins said staff and members of the school district community gave impassioned pleas to the council requesting more money be allocated to the schools. “The bottom line,” Collins said, “is we’re short of our goal.” That said, he thanked the Town Council for amendments to the budget during the first reading on June 6, which directed an additional $253,000 to the district.
With the council vote cast, Thornton told committee members it is their decision to wait for June 23 or schedule a special meeting sooner to continue discussion and cast their own vote reaffirming the final budget. School Committee Chairperson Karen Freedman said the committee did not take the budget issue lightly.
“There isn’t anything easy about this budget, and unfortunately when you face a gap like we’re facing, personnel cuts is unfortunately one of the areas we have to look at,” she said.
Construction community meetings
During the June 9 School Committee meeting, Thornton announced two upcoming community meetings to share information on phase construction plans for Ashton Elementary School and Community School.
• A meeting at Community, 15 Arnold Mills Road, at 7 p.m. on June 14 will share information on the cafeteria renovations planned for phase one of construction.
• A meeting at Ashton, 130 Scott Road, at 7 p.m. on June 15 will share information on construction of a new school wing that is being planned.