Worried that drastic cuts in state education aid could be coming down the pike, the city’s school superintendent plans to hand out about 200 pink slips to every non-tenured teacher by the end of March.
Though most will likely keep their job, Superintendent Philip Streifer’s worst case scenario for the upcoming budget would send about 70 non-tenured teachers packing out of a total of 108 potential layoffs.
Board of Education member Tom O’Brien, who heads the finance committee, said it is “unthinkable” that state lawmakers would allow the sort of drastic cuts to state aid that would force Bristol to take such drastic steps.
Streifer presented three possible budgets for next year that range from a low of $95 million to a high of $104.6 million, which is what Streifer said it would take to maintain existing personnel and programs.
This year’s spending plan calls for shelling out $100.9 million for city schools. Streifer said he expects to end the fiscal year in June with a slight surplus.
What’s driving the dire scenarios is concern that state decision-makers will slice education aid to municipalities in their quest to fill a hole in Connecticut’s budget that might total as much as $10 billion over the next 30 months, including a shortfall of more than $1 billion in this year’s budget.
School officials said that Bristol’s students are doing well on standardized tests and that existing programs and methods are proving successful. They say they would like to get enough funding from the city and state to maintain what they’re doing.
“It’s going to have a very dramatic effect here if the state pulls the rug out from under this,” Streifer said.
But, Streifer said, given the talk of major reductions in state aid and the possibility of the city freezing its educational assistance, he has no choice but to look at how he could deal with budget cuts in the coming year.
He said that the goal is to make any cuts have as little impact on academics as possible and to pay particular attention to making sure early childhood education isn’t harmed.
But to reach the spending limits that a 4 percent or 9 percent cut requires would not be easy, officials said.
As many as 71 non-tenured teachers could be shown the door, officials said, along with clerks, custodians and more.
Streifer said he intends to hand out pink slips to all of the non-tenured teachers by March 31 so that if he has to cut some, they would not be able to force the district to hold potentially costly hearings on the reduction in force effort.
“It’s not pleasant, but it’s the right thing to,” Streifer said.
Art Costa, the head of the teachers’ union, said he understands the difficulty of the situation. He said he hopes state legislators will take quick action so that officials can at least know what they’re dealing with.
“We’re in a terrible situation,” said Barbara Doyle, the chair of the school board. “It’s not nice not to know.”
O’Brien said that school board members will examine every alternative to try to make sure that every possible teacher remains in the classroom.
Among the potential changes not yet factored in are an early retirement program, furloughs, shortening the school year or voluntary wage reductions to save money and jobs. All of them are on the table, officials said.
There is also a chance that millions of dollars could come from the federal stimulus measure that Congress is debating. It would help, Streifer said, but would not be enough by itself to stave off some of the cuts.
O’Brien said he is glad Streifer is taking a realistic approach to the budget, adding that he is “mystified and disappointed” so many other school systems in Connecticut are approving spending plans that assume threatened cuts won’t actually happen.
Among the changes eyed
- A single band director to serve all three middle schools.
- Moratorium on new books for school libraries.
- Up to 31 students in some elementary classrooms.
- Ax summer adult education.
- Drop 4th grade instrumental music.
- Fewer high school courses.
- Eliminate middle school inter-scholastic sports.
- Rely on parent volunteers for elementary libraries.
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