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Morristown grows fund balance, cuts staff

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MORRISTOWN – The Morristown Teachers’ Association presented the Board of Education with a budget analysis highlighting the growth of the school’s fund balance in recent years at Tuesday’s meeting.

Since 2009 the school has grown its total fund balance from $2 million to $3.25 million in 2012; a 61 percent increase.

The report also points out that in the three-year period analyzed, the school has been operating with a budget surplus despite cutting five full-time teaching positions, teacher’s aids and bus drivers last year.

“We can’t explain any of the actions of the Board,” said Karen I. Basham, co-president of the Teachers’ Association, speaking of the fund balance build up compared to the cut programs and loss of staff.

Ms. Basham said she is hoping to see positions restored and programs brought back to ensure the school is providing a solid education.

“There’s money there,” said Mark C. Blanchard, co-president of the Teachers’ Association.

Superintendent David J. Glover said he expects state aid to be reduced this year due to the money spent on the recovery after Hurricane Sandy.

“Morristown has half a million dollars less in state and federal aid now than in 2007,” said Mr. Glover.

Ms. Basham said that, despite that loss of aid, the school has still managed to grow a fund balance.

“The rainy day is here,” said Mr. Blanchard, advocating for the application of fund balance dollars to sure up the education of students.

“The cuts in staffing have limited the schedule in such a way that it is difficult for teachers and their students to find a common time to schedule make-up work and receive individualized assistance,” said Jeanne Smith, a high school English teacher.

“Reduction in support staff has also, in recent years, impacted prep time available for teachers to work on curriculum,” said Ms. Smith. “Much of my time, prep time, in which I am supposed to be preparing for four different preparations, is now used for making copies due to decreased support staff.”

Ms. Smith said that time “should be afforded to me for curriculum development and providing student feedback.”

“The four different preparations that I have been assigned are above and beyond the two to three that are expected by employees in most districts,” continued Ms. Smith. “And the three preparations that our half-time English teacher has been assigned is at or above the expectations for a full-time employee in similar districts.”

“Teachers in similar districts may have the same number of students, they may have the same number of classes, but they are not expected to prepare for as many different preparations,” Ms. Smith said.

“We have been put in the position where we can barely keep our heads above water with little or no time for creativity or innovation,” Ms. Smith added.

Proficiency reports developed by Renaissance Learning in October were presented at the meeting by Mr. Glover and showed students significantly below the proficiency threshold in several key areas of state standardized testing.

Thirty-four percent of third graders were below the “pathway to proficiency” in math and 47 percent were lagging in English.

Fifty-two percent of fourth graders were behind in math and 52 percent were also behind in English.

For fifth graders, 41 percent were behind in math and English, but Mr. Glover pointed out that, although the fifth graders are doing better, that still leaves nine out of 22 students who are not headed towards academic success if the projection holds true.

Board Member Mary Anne Bailey said she wants “to educate the children of this school now,” arguing for a more aggressive application of fund balance money in the future.

President of the Board Cyril Aldrich said he thought they might as well apply more money now. “I read in the paper that we’re going to be out of money in four to five years anyway.”

Noting that so many students are falling behind at Morristown the Board unanimously moved to begin the process of hiring a full time special education teacher who will start halfway through the year.

The Board expects the position to cost at least $30,000 including benefits for a half year.

Mr. Glover said the teacher will be able to help support kindergarten, first, second and third graders who need to catch up in addition to working with children with special needs.

Additionally, Mr. Glover said the district has “two special education kids who need a new teacher. We’re trying to keep these kids as mainstream as possible.”

Mr. Glover also noted that the money for the hire is already contained in the special education budget for this year and the school would not have to dip into its fund balance.

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