JEFFERSON — Cuts to the school budget will mean larger classes, less art, music and physical education and less math help for struggling students at Jefferson Elementary School.

The Jefferson School Committee eliminated two unfilled teaching positions, laid off two staff members and cut the hours of three others at the town’s school to meet the parameters of the $4.9 million budget approved at referendum by a 370–306 vote last week.

Residents amended the board’s previous budget at a special town meeting on July 9 to cut regular instruction by $240,000, or 11 percent.

Regular instruction consists largely of teacher compensation, classroom supplies and tuition for high school students. Superintendent Steven Bailey said the amendment prevented the school board from making cuts in other areas such as facility improvements or utilities.

Bailey said school officials decided what to cut based on an exit poll of people who voted in last week’s referendum.

“The majority of those folks came and said that if indeed reductions are necessary, then they would support a combination of loss of classroom teacher time and also time with the specialists,” meaning art, music and phys ed, Bailey said.

At the same time, those people wanted at least one classroom teacher at each grade level and at least some time for all students in the non-academic classes.

The school board had planned to have one classroom teacher for each grade except first and third, which would each have two teachers. They also planned to hire someone to fill an opening to teach math, science and social studies in the middle school grades, and they would have hired an extra kindergarten teacher if the school received more kindergarteners in August, which Bailey said is typical.

In response to the budget cut, the school board eliminated the two unfilled positions. The second classroom for first and third grades also will be eliminated, with one of those teachers transitioning to the middle-school math science and social studies role and the other being laid off.

With one class at each grade level, class sizes will range from 16 in kindergarten — which could grow if there are late registrations — to 14 in fifth grade.

The school board this week laid off classroom teacher Sandra Brann, music teacher Ruth Holden, art teacher Hilary Gallione, phys ed teacher Rose Marie Angell and education technician Jocelyn Joyce. Holden, Gallione and Angell were immediately rehired on a half-time basis.

Jefferson students will have art, music and phys ed classes once a week, down from twice a week, Bailey said.

Joyce has provided additional math support for struggling students in grades five through eight, and Bailey said the school will have to find other ways to provide those services.

The school board had to provide the teachers, but not Joyce, 90 days notice, so they are still employed through October. Bailey said Principal Peter Gallace is trying to create schedules that will minimize disruptions changes two months into the school year will have for students.

Though the school board was required to approve cuts to reach the new spending number, there was resistance among the board members, Bailey said.

There were dissenting votes on all of the layoffs, and the new budget was approved by only a bare minimum. Chairman Robert Westrich, Ray Anderson and Joan Jackson voted yes, while Forrest Bryant and Ellie Day abstained.

“They put forward budgets that they felt both were responsible in terms of taxes as well as what they felt was important for students,” Bailey said.

The budget cut will not reduce taxes this year. Town Clerk and Treasurer Lynne Barnikow said the tax rate has already been set based on the the budget that got preliminary approval but then was rejected in June, because that’s what was in effect when the new fiscal year started on July 1. That school budget was $260,000 higher than the final product.

The extra money will go into the town surplus, Barnikow said, and next year voters will decide whether to spend it or use it to lower taxes.

Bailey said Jefferson school staff will work with the new budget to try to continue the trend of improving test scores.

“We’ll move forward and obviously we’ll make a go with it and give the very best possible opportunities we can to students and work to help them acheive the best we can,” he said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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