Union rep Conner Bourgoin says choice based on ‘strict seniority’
Recently, Tewksbury Memorial High School laid off a popular teacher. As required by the union, the decision was determined solely by seniority.
Ed. note: This article originally stated that more than one TMHS teacher was laid off. Supt. Regan clarified that other positions were reduced via “various attritional and personnel reasons.”
The layoff was due to low incoming enrollment at the high school. The rising 8th grade class has 259 students, smaller than usual, with about 120 of them expected to choose Shawsheen Tech over TMHS. At the Sept. 21 School Committee meeting, superintendent Brenda Regan reported that enrollment is declining but saw the bright side in smaller class sizes. It was expected in this previous school year that no class would have more than 25 students, and that many would have 20 or fewer. The 23-24 school year is currently slated to have only 713 students in total for grades 9-12.
“Due to declining student enrollment within the past decade, the District has deemed it necessary to reduce its force,” said Tewksbury Teachers Association representative Conner Bourgoin. “According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between both the TTA and the District, any time the District reduces its force, it must go by strict seniority. At this time, a few positions are likely being cut.”
This has been a controversial decision to TMHS students, and many have reacted by beginning or signing a petition to save history teacher Daniel Kassner. The petition now has more than 650 signatures.
Bourgoin said the TTA hopes the District reconsiders any position cuts and instead waits for natural attrition — that is, cutting a position after someone retires or resigns on their own. Otherwise, the TTA’s only role in this is to ensure the contract is being followed.
“We hope, ultimately, that all of these amazing educators who are facing layoffs come back for the 2023-2024 school year in their content areas that they enjoy teaching so much,” he said.
With the increase in apartments and other housing around town, residents may have expected that enrollment would be up because there would be more children moving into town. However, this has been proven to not be the case, as indicated by the 2023 enrollment numbers.
Regan emphasizes that Tewksbury Public Schools enrollment has been down in the past 10-15 years. The decline has resulted in the population of the high school shrinking by 300 students since the building of the new TMHS.
This type of reorganization also occurred in other schools in the district, happening at the Ryan School and the Wynn Middle School a few years ago, pre-COVID.
“However, we are seeing an increase in our early childhood grades,” Regan said, reflecting on upticks in the number of pre-K to Grade 1 students. “This is very good news for the town. Therefore, we have addressed these increased staffing needs through a reorganization of positions from the higher grades where enrollment and class size is quite low.”
This sort of moving staff around to meet needs is common in most organizations.
“It is fiscally irresponsible to run class sizes at TMHS with only a handful of students, when we have growing class needs in other grade levels, increased specific student support needs, and increased needs in meeting educational programming needs,” said Regan.
The number of teachers in the lower grade levels has increased, as well as teachers in student support positions, such as ESL teachers, for example. These additions are actually greater than those that were reduced at the high school, said Regan.
“Ultimately we would reorganize high school staff to the younger grade levels in an effort to preserve our beloved faculty,” she said. “Our goal is always to retain high-quality teachers. But unfortunately, teachers are limited in what grades they can teach by their licensure and areas of expertise.”
It doesn’t seem that there is going to be an increase in TMHS enrollment that would require a larger staff. Current students, alumni and fellow staff members are sympathetic to the educator who is being laid off, and hope for him to continue to teach the younger generation. There is also the possibility that positions will open up over the summer due to the attrition Bourgoin mentioned.