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Tewksbury School Committee, TTA Face Off Is Not the Whole Story

By now, the TewksburyTV replay of the Feb. 9 Tewksbury School Committee meeting has received almost 2,200 views. If you stopped watching after School Committee member Nick Parsons walked out with Tewksbury Teachers Association members, who were removed from the room by order of School Committee chair Keith Sullivan, you missed a lot of important information.

There was more to the meeting than fireworks.

Business manager Dave Libby presents 2022-2023 budget: Three sections of the budget were addressed: salaries, the operating account and capital outlays. The schools comprise a large portion of the overall town budget — some 62% for FY23, according to the town manager. There is a fourth section of the school district budget, fixed costs, that is managed by the town. Overall Libby said the district is looking for a 2.34% total budget increase.

The areas of focus are personnel, operations, technology and building improvements. Under the new budget, salaries would have a 2.96% increase, the operating account would have a .95% increase and capital outlays would not change; any funds needed to be spent on capital projects would come from ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund) II and ESSER III grant funds. The main capital outlay priorities are upgrading the TMHS security cameras, coating the Wynn roof, fixes to the TMHS roof, ClearBoards for classrooms and and an intrusion alarm at the Ryan School.

All budget documents can be found in the School Committee packet here. Looking ahead, the school portion of the general fund less exempt debt for FY23 is $64,197,438 versus $44,001,405 on the town side. The school budget increase without exempt debt is $1,334,217; of that, salaries comprise $1,074,482, including cost of living, longevity and step increases and other contractual obligations plus three new school positions.

In contrast, there are no new town side positions planned. The 2.25% budgeted salary hike for school staff matches the raises for Tewksbury police and fire department personnel.

Citizen’s forum: This month’s citizen forum was heated. When former TMHS teacher Dr. Nicole Saad began discussing the ongoing teachers’ contract negotiations, Sullivan stopped her, saying that the contract was not on the agenda and citing longstanding citizen’s forum rules stating that discussion was limited to items on the agenda. Saad pivoted, saying she would speak on the budget, which was on the agenda.

Partway though her statement, Sullivan again stopped Saad, arguing that her statement did not pertain to the budget. TTA president Conner Bourgoin interjected that this policy of limiting topics was a violation of attendees’ constitutional rights per Spaulding vs. Natick, the details of which can be found here.

Resident and parent Deb Wall stood to speak stating that, per School Committee policy, citizens should be allowed to speak on any topic in the purview of the committee. After some debate about the policy among the four School Committee members present — John Stadtman was absent — attendees were permitted to speak. Many teachers took advantage.

  • TMHS teacher Peter Molloy spoke about the fact that teachers in surrounding towns are being paid $10,000 more per year.
  • Dewing Elementary School teacher Amanda Reardon had a budgetary question that could not be answered at the time.
  • Heath Brook Elementary School teachers Emily Niles, Jennifer Price and Teresa Enos all encouraged School Committee members to come and experience a day in the life of an elementary school teacher.
  • Heath Brook and Trahan Case Manager Rosemary Coughlan asked members to follow her on Wednesdays, the day she has all her scheduled special education meetings.
  • Art teacher Jen Barbati stated she was baffled by the state of negotiations, stating they were no closer to a resolution that they were a year ago.
  • North Street Elementary School teacher Loren Carlino spoke of her concerns for services for her special education students.
  • Wynn Middle School teacher Emily Noel spoke about her desire to “just be able to teach,” while TMHS teacher Kelsey Ring stated she doesn’t know how K-4 teachers get it done.
  • Wynn DLC aide Kelly Joyce expressed frustration over the low pay of aides.
  • TMHS teacher Jade Scarpa spoke about how after becoming a teacher she realized how much personal time teachers spent working.

Residents can find a deep dive on the ongoing contract dispute here and on the salary discussions here.

It wasn’t just teachers who stood to speak. Resident and parent Daniella Milner wants teachers to be able to to focus on teaching. Karen Torres, with two TMHS graduates, asked the committee to look at the budget and dig deep for the teachers. Advocate Doreen Healy said her clients are not getting what they need.

As a break from the contract discussions, parent Robert Hanley expressed his pleasure at DESE’s removal of the mask mandate and his concern about social emotional learning.

The final speaker, parent Jessica Ryan, is concerned about how many teachers are leaving the profession and how few are choosing it a profession. Prior to Ryan’s statement, Sullivan had stated there would be only five more minutes of citizen’s forum because the committee had to get on with the evening’s business.

At this point, a motion to end citizen’s forum and take a 10 minute recess passed 3 -1 with only Parsons dissenting. After the recess, TTA president Conner Bourgoin was at the microphone asking to speak. Sullivan stated that citizens forum was over. Bourgoin insisted he should be able to speak. Sullivan warned him that if he continued to disrupt the meeting, he would be removed. As the audience chanted, “Let him speak,” Sullivan asked Tewksbury Police Department officers on duty to remove Bourgoin from the room.

The crowd then began to chant, “Whose schools? Our schools!” At that point, Sullivan ordered the room cleared of all spectators. Parsons chose to leave the meeting at this time. He did not return.

COVID update: Outgoing superintendent Chris Malone noted that DESE has revoked the mask requirement in schools effective Feb. 28, with the exception of buses and the nurse’s office, where masks are regulated by the federal government. The new guidance from DESE also ends contact tracing and the test and stay program. In lieu of that, students and staff may opt in to receive two home test kits every other week. Currently more than 920 students and 320 staff have opted in. This program is funded by DESE.

Malone also noted that the original school committee vote for masking was only for 60 days and has since expired. He recommended following DESE’s recommendations. All the school committee members present agreed, with member Shannon Demos expressing her hope that the end date of the mandate didn’t coincide with the first day back from February vacation. Members also requested that masks still be available in the schools for those who do not feel comfortable unmasking at this time, and that administration support those staff and students.

Search committees: Preliminary interviews for the new TMHS principal were conducted Saturday Feb. 5 and Monday Feb. 7. The list has been shortened to four candidates who will be moving ahead to the next round. The hiring committee will then pick two candidates and decide on the new hire by mid to late March. The new principal would begin on July 1.

The search for a new superintendent is also moving along. The district sent out six requests for proposals (RFPs) to companies that are in the business of executive searches and received four responses. The town opted to contract with MASC, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. The school committee approved this with a unanimous vote.

Superintendent Malone retires: This was the last School Committee meting for the superintendent, who retires at the end of this month. Demos thanked Malone for being “a steadfast leader” and said that he will be missed. Sullivan said he was always fair, honest and professional and had a positive impact on the district that will be felt “for years to come.” Malone made note of the work the school committee members are doing under trying conditions and thanked all the previous school committee members who were present.

Administration leadership now falls to acting superintendent Brenda Regan, who the TTA notes is shadowed by a no confidence vote by 82% of the town’s teachers.

Misc Items

  • Report cards came out Feb. 9 and can be found on Aspen
  • Kindergarten registration is open; info can be found on the district’s website here
  • February 7 – 11 is school counselor week
  • February 15th is school resource officer day
  • A draft of the 2022-2023 school year calendar was approved and will be posted on the TPS website soon so families can plan ahead
  • Offices are still in the process of moving to their temporary locations in anticipation of the Center School demolition. A directory of where you can find a Center School office is here
  • If you’d like to watch the school committee meeting, it’s available on YouTube here. Please note that you must fast forward to about the 45 minute mark due to executive session at the start of the meeting
  • The next school committee meetings are 3/9 and 4/13

Photo credit: Tewksbury Teachers Association

Julie Naughton
Julie Naughton

Julie likes coffee and covers education and all things concerning the Tewksbury Public Schools, along with other topics, for the Carnation.
Contact her at:
tewksburycarnation@gmail.com attn Julie N.

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