Job cuts eyed at Bristol Elementary School

BRISTOL — A proposed Bristol Elementary School budget that would increase spending by 2.76 percent in the next fiscal year is drawing criticism from some faculty and staff who are concerned that it would cut several staff positions and hurt students.
The $4.9 million spending plan, which the school board tentatively signed off on last week, would curb costs in several areas, including by eliminating one faculty position and five non-special education support staff positions.
The supervisory union and school board tout the budget as a win for students and taxpayers, while some staff believe the board could formulate a budget that doesn’t call for layoffs.
Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent David Adams said the budget both preserves the quality of education at the school and lessens the tax burden for residents.
“This is a very responsible budget in that it minimizes the impact on property taxes at a time when we’re concerned about controlling that,” Adams said, adding that the 2.76 percent spending increase over the current fiscal year is in line with the rate of inflation.
Adams said the proposed cuts are not a reflection of the competency of instructors, and that the recommendation to lay off employees is not one administrators take lightly.
“We’re very happy with the staff at the school, but we’ve found we can provide the same level of service with a smaller staff,” he said. “This is an appropriate time to look at our staffing, and make some difficult and important decisions.”
The staff cuts call for $98,398 less in spending for professional staff and $125,634 less for assistants, compared with the current budget.
Adams said he is pleased that this budget proposal, despite being larger than the spending plan for the current fiscal year, spends less per equalized pupil. That’s because the number of equalized pupils, a figure calculated by the state to determine how education funds are apportioned, increased by about four students at Bristol Elementary between last year and this year.
Adams said the proposed budget also includes important investments in the school, such as $47,000 for roof repairs and $62,355 for grounds repairs, including paving.
Bristol School Board member Kelly Laliberte said the idea to cut staff came from administrators, noting that the budget proposal comes from a series of talks between the board and administrators. While the board decides on the spending figure, she said it is up to administrators to implement the spending plan.
“We don’t make the decision on what to cut or who to cut,” Laliberte said. “We monitor the administrators, and if they think that needs to happen, I guess it needs to happen.”
Board chair Steve Barsalou did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
While board members and administrators believe they’ve drafted a sound proposal, some teachers and staff hope a responsible budget that doesn’t shed jobs can be reached.
At the Jan. 12 school board meeting, Bristol Elementary librarian Kyra Ginalski read a letter that she said was signed by 34 members of the school’s staff (about 70 people work at the school).
The letter raised several concerns about the budget proposal, including:
•  Why does the budget cut staff when the school is expected to have more students next year?
•  Why does the budget cut staff if special education support staff would be paid from the ANeSU special education budget, which was consolidated from individual schools to the supervisory union budget last year?
•  Are there other options for funding repairs, such as through a bond?
•  Is it possible for staff to have a greater role in the budgeting process?
Ginalski told the board that students with additional needs come to Bristol Elementary in greater numbers, in part because of the “well documented plague of drug problems in our state.” The letter also argues that Common Core state education standards require more sophisticated skills from students and staff, since the tests are administered electronically.
“Yet we are expected to do all this, with a smaller staff, and fewer resources,” Ginalski said.
Ginalski told the Independent on Tuesday that the teachers and staff who signed the letter believe that the budget proposal will lower the quality of education for Bristol students.
“We don’t trust that this budget process reflects the best interests of our students,” she said.
Ginalski said that she removed her daughter from Bristol Elementary and now sends her to Bridge School in Middlebury because she believes the caliber of education Bristol Elementary School students receive has declined in recent years.
With fewer aides in classrooms, Ginalski said teachers will not be able to reach out to make sure every student has what they need to succeed.
“There are a lot of kids with unmet needs,” she said.
The back-and-forth between Bristol Elementary staff and administrators comes just months before supervisory union faculty sit down with ANeSU officials to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.
Adams said he hopes to avoid acrimonious negotiations that have occurred in past years, before he came to the district. In 2011, the supervisory union’s school boards imposed a contract on teachers after negotiations dating back to 2009 were fruitless.
The sides had more productive talks in 2012, when they hammered out a four-year deal just weeks before the 2011 contract expired. The 2012 contract, which included pay raises each year for teachers, expires this coming June 30.
Adams said he’s hoping to see a new contract before the current one expires.
“Having continual terms of employment established prior to start of school year is always preferential,” he said.
One Bristol Elementary teacher said the contract negotiations were a separate issue from the staff concerns about the spending plan.
The teacher, who asked not to be named because she feared losing her job, raised the same concerns that Ginalski raised, and said board members told the staff at last week’s meeting that they were too late in the process even though this was the board’s first meeting since they revealed a budget draft in December.
The Bristol school board will next meet on Monday, Feb. 9, at 5:30 p.m. in the school library. Voters will weigh in on the proposed budget on Town Meeting Day.

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