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Schools will bear brunt of cuts if override fails

Harvard’s schools account for about 70% of the town budget, when both operating expenses and employee benefits are counted. So last month the Budget Working Group decided at its first meeting that, if the $320,000 override for fiscal 2021 fails at Town Meeting or the polls, the schools would have to shoulder 70% of the cuts needed to balance the budget. That comes to $224,000 in all.

At the working group’s next meeting, School Superintendent Linda Dwight said $220,000 in cuts would come from the personnel budget, based on leaving three vacancies unfilled. The remaining $4,000 would be cut from the amount budgeted for teachers’ summer professional development.

Changes in Bromfield’s English department

One vacancy at the Bromfield School was created by the retirement of longtime drama teacher Martha Brooks. That position will not be filled unless the override passes. Dwight explained in an email that the tentative plan is to divide the classes that Brooks taught among three other teachers, with Mike Poe and Craig Robbins teaching the drama elective and Cynthia Fontaine teaching the cable studio elective.

In another change at Bromfield, Peggy Bragg is moving to the seventh-grade English teaching position left vacant by a teacher whose contract was not renewed. Bragg has been Hildreth Elementary School’s reading and writing specialist and also the reading specialist for grades 6 through 8.

Dwight called the move a win-win situation. Bragg, who has been at HES for 24 years, is a certified secondary school English teacher. She already knows the students and the curriculum she will be teaching next year, and her expertise as a reading specialist will be a bonus at the seventh-grade level, Dwight said. Aspects of Bragg’s former specialist position—Title 1 funding, reading intervention, and data management—will be divided among different staff members at HES.

Transfers and class size at HES

Finally, one elementary grade will have three sections instead of four if the override fails. Dwight told the School Committee a few weeks ago that three grades look as if they might have 60 or fewer students next fall: kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. But the decision as to which one could best be divided into three classes will wait until enrollment numbers are more solid.

As a result of that change, one of those grades will likely have four or five more students per class than would have been the case with four sections. Those numbers would be close to the maximum allowed under Harvard’s policy on class size, which permits 15 to 18 students per kindergarten class and 17 to 20 students in first- and second-grade classes.

With that cut and also with Bragg moving over to the middle school, a number of other jobs at HES are being shuffled. Dwight said several teachers have been offered the option of transfers, including a move to the new special education classroom that will open next year, reducing the need for out-of-district placements. “There is likely to be a domino effect of several transfers based on filling that position and then creating other transfers,” Dwight said. “It will be a little complicated to explain since decisions are still pending.” But the goal is that one teaching position’s worth of savings will be created by the sum of the transfers.

Compared to the personnel changes, reducing the professional development budget might seem like a fairly simple step. But schools are expected to open in the fall with some sort of hybrid system of online and in-class learning. At least some of the professional development budget that may be curtailed for fiscal 2021—which starts July 1—would likely have been dedicated to training teachers to manage that scenario, with all its complexities.

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