The School Committee held a special meeting Monday in an attempt to close a $4.4 million budget gap and approve a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2013. While that vote was tabled to allow the school administration to continue looking for savings and “to come back to the committee with hard numbers,” the committee acted on several items during the executive session portion of the meeting toward that goal.
The two major items affected were the Marine Science Biology program at the three high schools, which was eliminated, and the Accelerated Learning Activities Program (ALAP), which was rumored for the chopping block, but was retained.
In a letter sent Monday to ALAP parents, ALAP PTA President Sarah Lockhart informed parents of the committee vote and urged them to attend the meeting.
“I regret to inform you, and it is my understanding, that all ALAP teachers received an involuntary transfer notice late last week, and it appears the ALAP program will be cut at the special budget school committee meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Warwick Administration Building,” she wrote.
“Although I don’t believe there is a public comment portion during tonight's meeting, I do feel I can give my support by showing up and letting my presence be known that I don’t agree with the decision to cut the ALAP program … Join me, with your family, on this last ALAP opportunity.”
Many attended the meeting, which was held at the school administration building on Warwick Avenue, as the parking lot was filled to near-capacity, making it hard to find a parking spot. Inside, the main hallway was filled with anxious parents and concerned teachers, waiting to find out where they might end up for next year, as the crowd waited for the committee to come out of executive session and open the public portion of the meeting.
Although the meeting began at 7 p.m., it wasn’t until an hour later that the committee took a short recess from executive session and informed the audience the ALAP gifted program had been retained but the public still wasn’t allowed in the conference room, as executive session resumed.
In a phone interview yesterday, School Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Maloney said there are a lot of benefits for students in the ALAP program. He said he’s been involved with the program in the past and visits the ALAP University each year.
“It provides a lot of enrichment to the community,” he said.
Maloney said the program serves students in grades 3 through 6 that require additional instruction “because they finish their work faster and work above their level.” He said students take a test in second grade that, together with a teacher recommendation, determines eligibility for ALAP.
“If they’re not accepted during the first year, they have other opportunities in fourth or fifth grade to join the program,” he said.
Maloney said all work completed in the ALAP program is in addition to students’ regular class work. He said one of the benefits of the program is that it’s inclusion-based.
“Teachers are bringing students from other classes into the program,” Maloney said. “It serves over 200 students and touches other classroom students, so it’s a good use of our money.”
Maloney added, “That’s not to say that the Marine Science program isn’t a good use of the money,” saying there were other financial issues that made it unaffordable at this time.
“In addition to the teacher’s salary, the vans used to transport the students are [either] no longer in use or continue to have problems,” he said. “The boat they use requires maintenance as well.”
Maloney said the teacher of the program will go back into the classroom and will be able to “give insight beyond the normal classroom experience, which is still a great resource.”
Maloney said the total cost of the Marine Science program, including teacher salary, vans and boat, was $130,000. In comparison, he said the ALAP program “serves eight to 10 times more students for twice the price.”
Maloney said it may not be a total loss.
“It’s my understanding that we have a collaboration with Save the Bay, and we may be able to expand that with the possibility of using some of the [Marine Science] money to give students access to that type of instruction, but it wouldn’t be on a weekly basis,” he said.
Maloney said he also learned that in the event of inclement weather, which prevented the Marine Science program from going out on the boat, students would essentially have a free period.
“Marine Science is a unique program, like ALAP is, and if we had the opportunity to keep it and we had more money, it is one of the things to keep,” he said. “But without the money, we can’t have the programs.”
Maloney described the school budget as “bare bones” and encouraged anyone concerned about losing programs such as ALAP and Marine Science to come to School Committee meetings and stay in contact with their City Council member.
The ALAP program was retained with a 5-0 vote and the Marine Science program was cut by a 4-1 vote, with Eugene Nadeau deferring. Other items voted on during executive session included physical education positions, a team of teachers at Gorton Junior High School and positions in the Business Technology Education Department.
Maloney said it was the administration’s recommendation to eliminate three P.E. teaching positions as well as three P.E. department heads. While the teaching positions were cut, the department heads were retained.
“Last year, we cut the department heads from six [three at the junior high level and three at the senior high level] to three [serving both junior and senior highs],” Maloney said. “To go to zero department heads would not relieve us from responsibilities of getting things done, and it would add responsibilities to principals.”
Maloney said in addition to the duties and responsibilities of a department head, they also teach classes. He said a normal teacher teaches five classes while a department head teaches three classes. He said due to declining enrollment and fewer students, the number of teachers could be reduced.
With regard to the team of teachers at Gorton, which included science, English, social studies and math, Maloney said the recommendation was to eliminate because the administration initially thought the enrollment numbers warranted such a move. However, at the start of Monday’s meeting, Maloney said the administration realized the numbers were higher than thought and the team of teachers was retained.
The positions in the Business Technology Education Department were also retained, with the exception of one position at Warwick Vets due to declining enrollment.
Typically, school committee meetings are held on Tuesdays, but Maloney said the meeting had to be held on Monday in order to get notice out to affected teachers Tuesday and Wednesday to allow them an opportunity to attend the job fair on Thursday.
Maloney said he hopes the state law regarding teacher layoff notifications gets changed. Currently, teachers must be notified by March 1; Maloney would like to see it moved to June 1.
“I hate that teachers are in class for three months thinking they might be laid off when many of them actually get reinstated,” he said. “I would like to see the law changed and I think it’s something many teachers would support.”
Maloney said another school committee meeting would be scheduled either next week or the week after to finalize the FY13 budget.
“We’re waiting for the administration to find additional savings,” he said.