Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Holyoke lays off 9 school employees but officials say freezes, sacrifices kept it from being worse

Holyoke lays off 9 school employees but officials say freezes, sacrifices kept it from being worse:
In late May, loss of grants and higher busing costs had officials worried layoffs could total 69.
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HOLYOKE – Nine teachers and others lost their jobs, but spending freezes and all-around sacrifices stopped the layoffs from being worse as the new school year begins Aug. 29, officials said.

“Every school and every department contributed,” Christine P. Regan, executive director of finance of the School Department, said last week.

In late May, before the state funding and city budget pictures clarified, officials had drawn up plans to close an $11 million shortfall that included laying off 69 teachers, assistant principals, custodians, paralegals and others.

The final layoff tally consisted of one family case manager at Peck School, one kindergarten reading coordinator at Peck, one outreach worker at Holyoke High School, one library media specialist at Morgan School, one library media specialist at the Center for Excellence and four teachers, including one shop teacher, at Dean Technical High School, Superintendent David L. Dupont said.
The $11 million gap was the difference between the revenue officials knew they could count on to run the school system in the fiscal year that began July 1 and the amount of money school principals and department heads said they needed to run their parts of the system.

Part of the funding problem was that federal stimulus money that consisted of three years at $3.2 million a year to the schools expired June 30. Officials have said the money was used to pay for existing staff and not to hire new people.

Also, with a quarter of the student enrollment of 5,900 in special education, such costs account for $15 million. But a formula lets the city use only $6 million of a state aid category known as Chapter 70 funding for special education, leaving the city to fund the remaining $9 million, officials said.

Further, state law requires that the city pay to transport students in homeless families that the state has placed in hotels here to attend school in their home communities. Such transportation cost $450,000, or nearly $200,000 more than budgeted in the previous fiscal year, officials said.

To close the $11 million gap, the first thing officials did was freeze spending except for “absolutely necessary items” for the remainder of the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30, Regan said.

As Regan described the freeze, “These were across-the-board types of budgeted line items, including staff development, travel, textbooks, instructional materials, computer hardware, field trips, nursing services for field trips, balances in accounts such as repairs and maintenance that were not needed, snow removal funds that were not needed due to the mild winter, funds for heating expense, advertising, equipment, furniture, unexpended/available special education tuition funding, etc.”

In addition, many of the openings that occurred with retirements of about 30 teachers and other staff won’t be filled, she said.

Another 20 to 30 employees weren’t brought back for the coming school year. They either failed to get the required state certifications for their teaching fields, were only one-year hires or were not renewed as employees for other reasons, she said.

“The combinations of positions that were not filled helped reduce the number of employees that were actually laid off,” Regan said.

Peter McAndrew, president of the Holyoke Teachers Association, couldn’t be reached for comment.

In the city budget of more than $124 million, more than half is school funding, at more than $64 million. The total school budget with all grants included is about $90 million. Most of the school budget, including part of the funding that is considered the city appropriation, consists of state aid.

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