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8/6/2014 2:00:00 PM
Jefferson School Committee Backpedals on 'Specials' Increase
By Dominik Lobkowicz

The Jefferson School Committee changed tack at its Aug. 4 meeting, voting to use roughly $42,000 included in the budget to increase "specials" of art, music, and physical education at the school for two educational technicians instead.

During the budget development process this spring, the committee voted 3-2 to include funding for the specials increase in the budget, which would change the three teaching positions from half-time to 80 percent of full-time for the 2014-2015 school year.

The funding was later solidified by Jefferson voters during the budget adoption and validation process as part of the regular instruction category.

The three positions had been cut in half for the 2013-2014 school year as part of a voter-approved $240,000 cut to regular instruction.

The two dissenting members in the 3-2 vote were Maria Solorzano and Shawn St. Cyr, who, during the budget discussions, both argued in favor of students spending that time working on other subjects.

Though the funding was approved by voters, the school committee had not yet authorized the increases to the specials positions as of their Aug. 4 meeting.

Solorzano brought up the idea of re-tasking the funds just before a vote on authorizing the specials increase was scheduled to take place.

Solorzano said she acknowledged repeated previous pleas from middle-level (grades 5 to 8) teachers for more assistance in the classroom, and suggested reaching out to teachers to see how the funding might benefit the students.

"We could sit here and make those decisions, but their input is valuable," she said.

Wayne Parlin, a member of the town's budget committee, reiterated his suggestion that the funds be used to hire two ed techs.

Going that route would help two-fold, according to Parlin: helping support the teachers in their instruction, as well as increasing student seat time in subjects like math and reading rather than using the time for increased specials.

Jefferson Village School Principal Peter Gallace saw the decision as a toss-up, saying increased specials can help certain students engage more in learning and improve in other subjects like math or reading, whereas simply increasing seat time in those subjects could help other students.

"Either way the board decides, I think it will benefit different groups of students," he said.

AOS 93 Business Manager Katherine Hunt said each full-time ed tech would cost around $23,000 to $24,000 for salary and benefits, which means the school committee will need to find roughly $6,000 more funding in the budget to cover the costs.

St. Cyr remained a proponent for increased seat time over increased specials, and made a motion to use the funds to hire two ed techs, one to assist "lower level" grades and one for "upper level" grades, "to help improve test scores and classroom instruction."

Solorzano seconded the motion.

Committee Chair Robert Westrich said he is in favor of adding more ed techs in the school, but "I'm not in favor of going against what the town voted on."

"The expectation of the town in the budget was it was going to go from 0.5 to 0.8," Westrich said of the specials. "Let's vote on it."

The board voted unanimously to approve hiring the ed techs, but in a subsequent vote to keep the specials at half-time, the vote was 4-1, with Joan Jackson dissenting.

Keeping the specials flat this year may necessitate paying 90 days worth of the salary difference to the two currently employed specials teachers since they had already been notified of the change in their duties to 80 percent of full-time, but the amount would likely be small, school officials said.

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