Budget cuts, staff layoffs, closing the Bradstreet School, and redistricting: these are just a few of the issues that have welcomed me as a new member of the North Andover School Committee.
I ran for School Committee in order to improve education for all of North Andovers public school children. Over the past two months it has been difficult to keep this goal in focus due to the tough fiscal issues we have faced. The toughest part of the whole process has been the reality that teachers will be laid off. We as a committee have done as much as possible to mitigate the numbers of layoffs, but layoffs there will be.
The district superintendent, Dr. Haruntunian, had presented the School Committee with a prioritized list of cuts that on the whole do much to preserve direct student services. There were some alternative cuts offered by fellow committee member Dr. Ormsby and myself. These alternative cuts ranged from savings on utilities, such as phone and electricity usage, to elimination of a Middle School administrator, to scaling back the number of guidance counselors in the elementary schools. Dr. Haruntunian provided justification for not accepting these alternative cuts whose sole purpose was to save teaching jobs.
In the end, the School Committee voted to accept the superintendents recommended cuts by a vote of four to one. I was the lone vote against the cuts, not because I disagree that they had to be made, but because I could not in good conscious vote to layoff valuable teaching staff. I think a larger message had to be sent that the lifeblood of a school system, its teachers, should not have to annually face the possibility of being laid off. We must do all we can to prevent such layoffs.
Since 1986, North Andover has enjoyed an unusual education tool known as the Bradstreet early childhood center. Most school districts in the Commonwealth and elsewhere operate K through 5 elementary schools. The Bradstreet school was home only to North Andovers kindergarten children.
Many phone calls I received regarding the closing of the Bradstreet school lamented the loss of what was viewed as a special place. They felt the Bradstreet school and especially its now retired Principal Kathy Callagy provided a warm and educationally sound first school experience.
On the other hand, some parents disliked its stand-alone character and antiquated condition. They felt the better transition was one where the first grade teachers were in the same building and perhaps an older sibling too. Of more concern to me was what becomes of the building and the section of Main Street it occupies. We owed it to the entire community to make sure an eyesore was not the anchor of Main Street.
To Dr. Haruntunians credit, he researched and got the assurances needed that if it is necessary, the Bradstreet could be reopened as a school. He has also begun exploring alternate uses for the building so it remains active and helps to contribute to the downtown businesses it has as neighbors. Closing Bradstreet will save teaching jobs due to the savings realized by eliminating the administrative jobs needed to operate it. This is a sound decision and although it forces the redistricting of some pupils, it helps to preserve the quality of education we expect.
Now that we
have gotten through all of the above, it is time to sit
down and roll up our sleeves and begin to improve on that
education. We can still do it no matter the budget. We
have no other choice.
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