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Lunenburg School Committee Sees First Glimpse of Staffing Cuts for 2024-25

LUNENBURG – The Lunenburg School Committee met Wednesday January 3 to get a glimpse at positions that will be cut for the upcoming 2024-25 school year, and made adjustments to next year’s school calendar regarding winter vacation. 

Lunenburg Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kate Burnham provided a one-page summary slide of the number of positions that are under consideration for being eliminated next school year. 

The summary included 5-plus reductions in curriculum and academic intervention staffing, 11 plus positions among classroom teachers, 5-plus positions in behavioral health, 2-plus positions in secretarial, 3-plus positions in custodians, and 2-plus positions in extracurricular staffing. The numbers generated factor in a 2.5 percent increase in overall budget, Burnham said, and the “plus” involves potential part-time or stipend positions. 

Lunenburg will likely face an 8-to-10 percent increase in health insurance costs alone, and the numbers reflect the highest potential for that scale. The school district was previously expecting cuts with the sunsetting of the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund grant, which allowed for expanded funding to cover COVID-19 related effects. The health insurance increases were unanticipated and if the increase is around 10 percent, could result in $500,000 of unforeseen costs for the district. 

Burnham has been working with her leadership team at the schools identifying areas that cuts can be made while still maintaining the necessary services. Reductions in classroom teachers, and other positions, will be felt district-wide, spread to all the schools. The behavioral health cuts include social work adjustment counselors, guidance counselors, and board certified behavioral analysts. 

As the budget cycle unravels, Burnham said decisions will need to be made on restoring proposed cut positions if the insurance surge is less than the worst case scenario. The school committee is currently in negotiations with the Lunenburg Education Association over a new contract, and Burnham said there is a salary reserve line for anticipated increases, however if negotiations go over that budgeted amount, additional positions could be lost. 

School committee member Peter Beardmore wanted to see the proposed eliminated positions lined up with department peers retaining their positions, so that the committee can better visualize the impact of the cuts. Burnham said with administrative positions, she has more flexibility and has been renegotiating contracts to allow for cost savings and position retention. 

School committee chair Carol Archambault appreciated the transparency with the process, which has been on-going since October, and appreciates the difficulty for Burnham making staffing decisions with so many large financial unknowns. Beardmore sought to announce the difficult budget process ahead of time by trying to get the word out and engage the public, as he felt there could be high emotions related to lost programs, offerings, and staff. Burnham said she would have the difficult conversation with potentially impacted staff prior to the budgeting meetings, which started this week. 

The 2024-25 winter school break will be a longer one for Lunenburg Public Schools students. With Christmas falling on a Wednesday, and Christmas Eve, another day off, slated for that Tuesday, the committee favored allowing for December 23 to also be part of the holiday break. The committee deliberated on what to do for a Thursday and Friday return for January 2 and January 3. 

School committee vice chair Brian Lehtinen cited that other districts would be returning those days, and the committee had concerns about underprivileged students not having access to food and heat for a 2 week period if the students didn’t return until the following Monday. There were also concerns over lost MCAS preparation, as the days would be made up in June after the MCAS, and Beardmore had concerns over potential interference with seniors’ rites of passage. In the end the committee agreed to having school return on January 2 for next calendar year. 

Lunenburg School Budget Sees Devastating Proposed Cuts; Athletics Administration Could Be Decimated 

LUNENBURG – Facing $1.5 million in lost grants and increased costs has created a nightmare scenario for the Lunenburg School Committee and Lunenburg Public Schools’ administration. At Wednesday January 17’s meeting the committee heard proposed cuts to cover the gaps during a preliminary budget unveiling, which would deal a blow to almost every facet of the school department, but be particularly detrimental to the athletics department, where all staff are under consideration for removal, and the same with middle school sports. 

“We tried really hard to make sure not one school or staffing group was going to bear the brunt of these cuts,” Lunenburg Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kate Burnham said. “(These) cuts have a real impact. This is the staffing level that we need to have if you want to see student achievement in the district. If you want to see students having options available to them. If you want to see their mental health being supported, so that they can get down to academics. To have your buildings running efficiently, to have your grounds and facilities maintained and cleaned efficiently and satisfactorily. This is the staffing level that we need to have, what we have currently.”

“We have deliberately built this, in accordance with the strategy that was outlined and with the intent to meet the COVID impact,” Burnham continued. “This was intentional, it was purposeful, this is what this district needs. And now, with all worlds colliding with a triple whammy, we are going to start to systematically dismantle what we built. I will tell you what I always tell you, we will do the best we can with what we’ve got. Our goal is still to make sure that kids have what they need so they can learn, and they can achieve, and they can grow. That their mental health needs are being taken care of. But I am going to tell you that we are not going to be able to meet that like we can now. We will not see the same outputs. We will not, that’s just the fact. We’re going back to FY19 in many, many ways.”

Lunenburg Public Schools are seeing increasing costs in health insurance ($500,000) and contractual increases ($400,000), and the sunsetting of COVID related grant programs including Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund for $600,000. 

Cuts are still fluid, as insurance costs and other costs are yet to be finalized, and the school committee still needs to deliberate on the proposed cuts and make adjustments. But in the recommended total, it calls for a 13% reduction in classroom teachers, 14% reduction in custodial/maintenance, 10% cut in paraprofessionals, 22% reduction in secretaries, and 14% reduction in administrators plus some additional salary negotiations among administrators. 

In total 7.4 full-time equivalents (FTE’s) would be lost at the high school, 2.5 at the middle school, 2.5 in the athletics department, 5.7 at Turkey Hill Elementary School, 4.5 at the Primary School, and between 4.5 to 12.5 at the district level depending what cuts need to be made among paraprofessionals. 

Numbers are still fluid and subject to change, and Burnham said with the cuts that were proposed that there still exists a $245,000 gap to close. Insurance figures could come in lower than expected, as the budget figures reflect a maximum on the anticipated scale. The school committee ultimately has the final say on what is cut and what isn’t, and school committee members are encouraging public participation in this difficult process. 

Lunenburg High School 

At Lunenburg High School, the preliminary budget calls for removing a history teacher; class sizes would fluctuate between 20-30, and this position was added this year. One out of the six English teachers would also be removed, where the average class size would lift to 21, and elective offerings would be affected. One math teacher would be eliminated, which was added this year, and the math skills building class would be eliminated. A science staff member would be eliminated, electives would be affected, however at this time there is no intention to close the greenhouse and environmental science classes. World language will be spared for now, due to gaps left at the eighth-grade level and effects on getting students to advanced placement AP. Burnham said that no AP classes will be dropped but class sizes would increase. The music teacher position would be reduced from full-time to part-time, as instead of teaching 5 classes they would teach 3, however chorus and band would be preserved, while other electives in music are dropped. 

An intervention teacher would be removed, however there would be a merging of the TLC and MTSS programs to preserve a staff member. One of the two physical education teachers would be eliminated, increasing class sizes, and combining the 9th and 10th grade physical education classes. The physical education cut may not happen, as scheduling could make it an impossibility. 

Guidance would revert to 2019 levels, as it would drop by half a position, and a position would be shared with the middle school. Custodial staff would be losing a night part-time position. 

Middle and High School Positions

For shared positions between the middle and high school, the librarian may be reduced to half time, but Burnham isn’t sure if this cut can be made. Currently on the removal list is the athletic director position, which would be replaced by an administrator taking on the responsibilities and getting a stipend. The athletic trainer position is subject to a cut, and so would the strength and conditioning programming, injury maintenance and prevention program, post-surgery rehab, and getting student athletes back on the field of play from injuries. The athletic department secretary would be eliminated as well, and their responsibilities absorbed by others. With the loss of the athletics director, middle school sports would also be eliminated, but Burnham said that students still have options from the youth leagues in town. Burnham said she isn’t advocating for the elimination of the athletics department, saying that money saved from cuts could restore a staff position. 

Lunenburg Middle School

At Lunenburg Middle School, one classroom teacher would be eliminated, dropping the total from 17 to 16. Teachers can be reassigned to a different grade level to limit the impact of class sizes, Burnham said. The technology teacher may be eliminated, but currently it is safe due to problems filling the space in the schedule. Guidance would be reduced by 1.5 FTE and there would be a shared counselor with the high school. 

Turkey Hill Elementary School

At Turkey Hill Elementary School one classroom teacher would be removed, dropping it to 15 total, however there is a large sixth grade class transitioning to 7th grade so there would be minimal impacts on class sizes. The Wilson Reading Teacher is set to be eliminated, the position addresses a specific reading and writing gap. The intervention teacher would be eliminated, and physical education would go from one dedicated teacher at the school to a shared half-time position with the primary school. The music teacher would go from 0.7 FTE to 0.5 FTE, as this position was increased to build a band program, however now it would revert to its former level without band instruction. A guidance counselor would be eliminated, and the trails to wellness program eliminated. The part-time secretary would be removed, and the full-time secretary would assume their role. The part-time night custodian would have the same fate. 

Primary School

At the Primary School, one classroom teacher would be eliminated, leaving 15 remaining. One of the two social worker/adjustment counselors would be removed, as well as the intervention teacher. The physical education teacher would go from one dedicated staff to the building, to a shared position with Turkey Hill. The part-time secretary would be removed, as the district is seeking a senior tax work off volunteer or a parent volunteer to assume the role. The part-time evening custodian would be removed.

District Office

At the district office the enrollment secretary, who handled all new students entering the district and bus routes, would be removed, and their position absorbed by others. One of the three instructional coaches would be removed. Maintenance staff could go from four to two, but at least 1 removal, Burnham said, which would have impacts on plowing and maintaining facilities. The part-time evening custodian would be eliminated. One BCBA position would be removed. Paraprofessionals are still fluid and change on student demands. There are currently 63, but Burnham thinks up to 7 could lose their positions. Administrator contracts were also renegotiated with a savings of $24,588. 

The school committee next met on Wednesday January 24 to digest and deliberate on the preliminary budget.