Brockton lays off 480 school teachers

One-third dismissed in budget crunch fallout

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / May 15, 2010

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Brockton has delivered pink slips to more than a third of its public school teachers and might close one school, sending shock waves across a school district that has been earning accolades for its rising success.

School officials say the drastic move Thursday to dismiss 480 of 1,200 teachers is necessary because the district faces a budget shortfall of $9.7 million for next year. The cuts are not final: If the state can provide the district more money than anticipated, some teachers could get call-backs in the summer, according to the officials.

Still, the mass firings alarmed parents, who worry about rising class sizes and the impact on morale among students and staff.

Kelly Sinkiewicz, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Baker Elementary School on Quincy Street, said 15 teachers at the school, which her daughter attends, received layoff notices.

“It’s got to have a devastating effect on the staff,’’ Sinkiewicz said yesterday. “The classrooms now have about 22 to 25 students, so it will probably grow next year to 30. It’s very sad to hear, because the district has been doing so well.’’

For example, Brockton High, the largest public high school in Massachusetts, has seen its MCAS scores soar, earning state recognition as a symbol of urban hope.

“I think this will really hit everyone on the last day of school, just having all that uncertainty hanging over their heads about whether they’ll get a callback during the summer or not,’’ Sinkiewicz said.

Sinkiewicz, who is also a member of the Baker School’s Improvement Council, said school staff were instructed to not tell students about the notices. “It’s MCAS week, so they didn’t want them distracted.’’

Mayor Linda M. Balzotti said yesterday in a phone interview that a reduction in state and federal aid, coupled with rising fixed costs, have presented the district with “a terrible set of circumstances.’’

“Clearly nobody wants to make reductions at this level, because obviously it will have negative impact,’’ Balzotti said. “The staff at our schools always rise to the occasion, and I know they will do their best to minimize that impact.’’

School officials warned that custodial workers, administrators, and paraprofessionals could also face layoffs. In addition, the Raymond Elementary School, which has about 900 students and 30 teachers, might be shut down.

Closing the school could save up to $3 million, officials said. A decision might come within the next two to three weeks, he said. Raymond Elementary will stay open through the last day of the current school year, and the teachers who received layoff notices will continue to work during this time.

In a statement yesterday, Superintendent Matthew H. Malone referred to Thursday as “without question, one of the darkest days our school system has ever seen.’’ He said the district has absorbed millions of dollars in cuts in the past five years and lost more than 200 teaching positions through attrition.

At the same time, the district has experienced an increase in students, including 128 survivors of the Haitian earthquake.

“We hope that as the budget process continues, we will be able to call back more than half the teachers who received notices yesterday,’’ Malone said. “Still, we recognize that this is devastating news for some of the hardest working and most productive educators in the country.’’

It is unclear whether the district will have to make additional cuts beyond the teachers, support staff, and the school closing.

“Everyone’s crossing their fingers that won’t have to happen,’’ said Thomas J. Minichiello Jr., vice chairman of the Brockton School Committee. “My intention as a School Committee member is to attempt to save as many positions as possible with creative solutions. . . . We’ll be rolling up our sleeves at next Thursday night’s meeting.’’

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