Beverly schools cuts draw protest

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / May 23, 2010

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Beverly school officials are finalizing a fiscal 2011 budget that includes steep cuts across the board, including reductions that have sparked protest from a local union.

The local AFSCME union representing about 115 school custodial, clerical, cafeteria, and transportation workers held an informational picket line outside Monday’s School Committee meeting to oppose cuts that would result in a loss of health benefits and a pay cut for some of its members.

“You are hurting the folks that can least afford it,’’ said Kevin Shea, president of the union, which plans to picket again at the School Committee’s meeting on Thursday.

To save $75,000, the budget would cut the hours of about 10 part-time cafeteria workers to fewer than the 20 per week they need to receive city health insurance.

It also calls for a $75,000 cut in transportation that will likely include a similar downscaling of hours for some bus drivers and monitors, according to Superintendent Jim Hayes.

Hayes said the savings would largely come from not having to pay for insurance for those employees.

He said the reduction in worker hours should not save much because new part-timers would likely need to be hired to make up for it.

But Shea said he considered the cuts “a punishment’’ for the affected employees, “because they are going to lose money from their salary and they are going to have to pay for their health insurance now.’’

“I feel for them, I really do,’’ Hayes said of the affected workers. “It’s got to be a really difficult loss for them.’’

But he said the overall cuts the district faces “are absolutely brutal. We have nothing good to cut, so it’s a choice between one distasteful option and another.’’

School Committee chairwoman Annemarie Cesa said she appreciates the union’s position and “I would certainly as much as possible want to keep giving people their health insurance. But the situations are grave for municipal budgets now, and there are very few positions in which you are entitled to health insurance for 20 hours of work.’’

All told, the district has had to cut $2.4 million from its $47.05 million level-services budget proposal for fiscal 2011 to meet the $44.6 million school spending figure set by Mayor William F. Scanlon Jr., according to Hayes.

The superintendent, who retires at the end of June after six years in the job, said the budget process has been difficult in nearly all those years. “But I feel this year is the worst,’’ he said. “We have literally run out of good options, because there are none.’’

Scanlon acknowledged the district faces a challenging budget year. But he noted that the city’s contribution to the school budget is up $1.05 million, which he said falls within the range of the 2.5 to 3 percent annual increase he pledged to provide when the high school building was completed. The project is set to be finished this fall.

The school budget is down $440,051 overall, but Scanlon said that is due to a drop in state aid and that the district depleted much of its reserves last year.

In Beverly, Hayes said other cuts in the budget include, at the high school, the elimination of three classroom teachers, a career and guidance counselor, a part-time language teacher, a part-time physical education teacher, and an aide.

The middle school would lose two special education teachers, 1.6 reading teachers, and a technology teacher. Elementaries would lose three teachers by discontinuing for some students the “open enrollment’’ policy that allows children to attend other than local schools.

They would also have to cut five aides and one of the specialty teacher teams that includes a physical education teacher, an art teacher, and a music teacher. The operating budgets of all district schools would be cut.

District-wide job cuts would include the assistant business manager, the 6th to 12th grade foreign language coordinator, two kindergarten to sixth grade consultants (one in math and the other in literacy) a speech therapist, and two central office clerks. The school nurse leader and the district tradesman would have their hours reduced.

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