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School superintendent stresses austerity for FY14

Date: 6/13/2013

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — As the school year approaches its end, Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea sent a letter to parents again stressing the difficult budget that faces the district during the next fiscal and school calendar.

HWRSD's proposed fiscal year 2014 (FY14) budget of $42.5 million represents a 2.58 percent increase, however, according to budget materials available on the district's website, the budget will be below level-service despite the hike and reductions will be made.

In the letter dated June 5, O'Shea reiterated the fact that the district would be reducing its teaching staff by nine full time equivalent (FTE) positions and 12 paraprofessional positions, as well as one clerical position, one administrative position and one district-wide operational support position.

He went on to say that the majority of the teaching cuts would take place in "elementary related arts," but the cuts would mean those classes would be "trimmed, but not eliminated." He also said that cuts in those areas would serve to "preserve manageable class size throughout the district and protect core instruction."

While cushioning the impact on those considerations, O'Shea admitted that the reduction in elementary related arts would be a blow to the district and the administration had resisted making such cuts in the past.

"I understand that all of these reductions are difficult. Though we call them related arts, science, physical education (PE), art, music and technology are vital to our students and our overall curriculum. These programs are often the 'hooks' that keep students curious and engaged," he said. "Because of our belief in the strong importance of related arts programming we have held off on reducing in this area in recent years, despite enrollment decline and despite several very challenging budgets."

He further explained that those positions were reduced from full-time positions to 80 percent positions and the change would necessitate some reorganization of educators.

"Based on the budget as it currently stands, we will need to reassign several teachers across the district," he said. "In most cases, the individuals holding these now-reduced positions are contractually entitled to full-time positions based on their seniority within the district. Individuals are reassigned based on a number of factors including student needs, licensure, qualifications, training, experience, and preferences. We have completed the projected reassignment process and affected teachers have been informally notified."

O'Shea also noted that the budget is not yet set in stone.

"Two issues loom large. One is state revenues. We do not know with certainty what levels of revenue to expect from the state," he said.

Recently, the State House of Representatives and Senate approved their respective Ways and Means budgets, which featured increases in Chapter 70 aid for schools.

"The second area relates to personnel costs," he said. "Contract negotiations are underway and we are working diligently to establish an agreement with five bargaining units. When these issues are settled, we will have a better handle on what to expect throughout the district next year."