WESTERLY — Three full-time Westerly High School teacher positions were eliminated and three others reduced to part-time status as the School Committee made additional adjustments this week to eliminate a potential deficit in its 2020-21 budget.
On Thursday night the School Committee voted 6-0 to approve elimination of full-time English, science and business teacher positions at the high school and to reduce a health/physical education teacher, a world language teacher, and a cosmetology teacher to part-time status. By the end of the meeting, the committee's adjustments left the budget with a slight surplus — about $33,900 — for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The deficit resulted from the Town Council's decision not to increase funding for the town's public schools above current levels. The council's approved 2020-21 municipal and schools budget maintained or level-funded the allocation of local tax dollars for education at $48.45 million, but the budget approved by the School Committee in February proposed a $50,124,718 allocation of local tax dollars, a $1.66 million or 3.44% increase over the current allocation.
The committee spent the last few weeks, since the council approved the 2020-21 budget in late April, working to eliminate the funding gap. Recommendations for elimination of teacher positions and preparing to notify a few teachers that their contracts might not be renewed was intentionally left to late in the deliberations, said Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau.
"Throughout the process we tried to do everything we could to minimize staff reductions," Garceau said.
In the end, Garceau said, the staffing reductions were similar to ones made in past years.
"They are driven by enrollment trends. We know we've seen declining enrollment, and if not enrollment, they are driven by student wants and student needs," Garceau said.
The committee also approved sending non-renewal notices to nine teachers: a reading specialist, a Grade 3 teacher, two high school science teachers, a high school English teacher, a special education teacher, a school nurse, an elementary-level foreign-language teacher, and a Grade 5 teacher.
Unexpected teacher retirements and other developments could allow for recalling some of the teachers who will be issued non-renewal notices, Garceau said.
The committee also voted 6-1 to restore the deputy finance director position to the school district's central office. The position had been eliminated during the budget process as a cost savings move but officials, led by committee member Mary Adams, changed their minds and restored the position. Committee member Diane Chiaradio Bowdy voted against the move, saying she preferred to stay with Garceau's proposal and evaluate it in the future.
"Other personnel recommendations that Dr. Garceau and the administration have made have been embraced and have been quite successful," Chiaradio Bowdy said.