standing Westerly school bus

WESTERLY — The School Committee on Wednesday approved what are expected to be final staffing changes tied to its approved 2019-20 budget.

The changes were the latest ones made since the Town Council approved a $59,112,244 education budget for 2019-20, a $1.325 million decrease from what the School Committee had sought but an increase from the current $57,983,040 spending plan.

To close a $457,000 gap that existed after previous changes, the School Committee agreed not to fill the district's human resources director position and to eliminate two teaching positions at Westerly High School, a Grade 3 teacher position, a bus driver position, and a bus monitor position.

Reductions to the operating budget were also accomplished by funding parts of both a pre-K teaching position and a behavioral specialist position through grants. Additionally, a special education position was left vacant and a special education teacher transferred to fill a vacancy at the high school. A part-time speech pathologist position was also eliminated.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau said the staffing reductions were driven by two primary factors. "When we talk about staffing reductions some of it is about reductions due to declining enrollment and some of it is about the incentives for early retirements," he said.

Earlier this month, the School Committee agreed to the issuance of nine nonrenewal notices to district teachers. On Wednesday Garceau said no additional nonrenewal notices are anticipated and some of the nine teachers could be recalled.

Over the course of the past year, Garceau has frequently pushed back on critics who assert that the district's staff has grown or remained the same despite a decline in student enrollment. On Wednesday he noted that the Board of Finance had asked education officials to increase efforts aimed at enticing teachers to take an early retirement incentive. Ten teachers took the most recent incentive.

Diane Chiaradio Bowdy, School Committee chairwoman, noted that the district had reduced staffing by more than 30 positions in the two years prior to its work on the 2019-20 budget.

The committee also approved a reduction in out-of-district tuition payments, based on adjusting the estimate of the number of students who will choose to attend schools outside Westerly. The estimated is dropping from 36 to 31.

The School Committee also agreed to adjust the number of paraprofessional positions that will be eliminated from 10 to 6.8 and agreed to add $11,000 for field trip computer software for the transportation department.

School Committee member Mary Adams asked Garceau to provide the committee with a report on the early retirements to document how many of the positions were left vacant. Officials have said some of the positions would likely be left vacant and others filled with less experienced teachers at lower salaries. Seventy-six percent of the district's teachers are currently at Step 9, the top of the district's pay scale system, according to Barbara Perino, the district's director of finance and operations. 

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com

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