By Michelle Murdock, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Due to the $5.5 million Proposition 2- ½ operational override that was passed by voters on June 3, students in the Shrewsbury Public Schools found themselves in smaller sized classrooms as they headed back to school Aug. 26.
“I cannot overemphasize how important this investment in reducing class sizes will be for our students and educators,” said Joseph M. Sawyer, superintendent of schools. “Smaller class sizes will improve the quantity and quality of attention, instruction, and feedback our students receive, and it will also improve the physical, social, and emotional environments in our classrooms.”
As a result of the override, the Shrewsbury Public Schools will receive an additional $3.73 million in funds, most of which are being used to hire additional teachers. According to an email from Sawyer’s office, instead of class sizes averaging 30 students, the majority of classes will now be within the School Committee’s recommended guideline of between 19 and 24 students, depending on the grade level span.
New teacher hires were completed during the spring and summer months and resulted in the following additional personnel:
- 42.7 full-time equivalent teachers to reduce class size;
- 9.4 full-time equivalent specialist professionals to address mandated special education needs;
- 2.4 full-time equivalent school psychologists and specialists to better support student mental health and behavioral needs;
- A 1.0 full-time equivalent teacher and 1.0 full-tie equivalent tutor to begin a new in-school support program at Shrewsbury High School;
- A 1.0 full-time equivalent special education director for the elementary grades;
- The restoration of 5.0 full-time equivalent curriculum coordination positions across the elementary and middle school levels that had been lost to budget reductions in previous years.
In addition, several para-professional positions were added, mostly to support mandated special education services, bringing the final total to 74.4 full-time equivalent positions allocated throughout the school district budget.
While the above numbers were provided by the superintendent’s office in response to a request about the impact of the budget increase from the override, Sawyer said results are not yet final.
“The official reports relative to staffing levels and class size/enrollment will be made at Shrewsbury School Committee meetings in the fall, after the official state reporting date of Oct. 1 for such data has passed,” said Sawyer.
In Shrewsbury, all teachers at all levels who are hired are put through an observed teaching process in which teachers, parents, and at the high school, students, get to watch the candidates in the classroom. Sawyer explained that this practice has been in place for approximately 20 years and is a critical component in the hiring process in addition to resume screening, interviews and reference checks.
“Barbara Malone, the director of human resources, has done a remarkable job orchestrating the extensive hiring our district has done over the past few months, and our administrators have brought forward very skilled and high motivated educators to be appointed,” said Sawyer. “I am so appreciative of the time that teachers, parents and students have put into this extensive process, which is so important since hiring quality educators is paramount for fulfilling our mission. The benefits of reducing class sizes will be amplified by the infusion of talent and enthusiasm these new educators will bring to our schools.”
In addition to the Shrewsbury Public Schools, the remainder of the override dollars, totaling roughly $1.77 million was allocated to various town departments, including $484,955 for highway repairs and improvements, $250,000 for the operation and maintenance of Shrewsbury’s public buildings and $210,000 to replace a 1980 Mack with 100,000 miles on it, for a total of $944,955 in capital expenses. Additional operating expenses beyond the $3.73 million for the schools included $106,978 to fund one maintenance craftsman-electrician and one HVAC technician.
In the Shrewsbury Police Department, override dollars totaling $153,538 were allocated to fund one dispatcher, one police sergeant and one patrol officer. In the highway department, one heavy equipment operator was funded at $44,469.
Also included in the total operating expenses was money for insurance related expenses associated with additional employees:
Group Health and Life Insurance $421,244.00
Medicare $ 43,053.00
General Insurance $ 57,724.00
While the override passed with a clear majority (7,100 to 3,704 votes), one local organization, Shrewsbury for Responsible Taxation, which did not support the override, recently updated its website with a post by Chris Kirk stating that the override did not solve Shrewsbury’s problems.
In a post dated August 27, 2014, Kirk says that the override was sold to voters as a long-term solution to the town’s chronic fiscal problems.
“It isn’t,” wrote Kirk. “Another override will be required in just a few years.”
According to Kirk, the need for another override will be driven by increases in teachers’ salaries that exceed the 2.5 percent property tax increases allowed by Proposition 2-½.
“Not only did unsustainable pay raises for teachers create the demand for an override, those raises will also quickly consume the new revenues from the override,” wrote Kirk.