September 13, 2013

Restore ed techs' hours, Gorham panel urged

The town's school board agrees to look for ways to undo cutbacks, including tapping into a windfall.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A half-hour reduction in the workday of educational technicians has created unsafe situations for students and staff in Gorham schools since classes started two weeks ago, according to union representatives.

And the Gorham School Committee is looking for money to extend their workdays again.

A staff member was bitten by a student after an ed tech had to leave, and a kindergarten class was left unsupervised for 15 minutes without anyone noticing because there were fewer adults in the building, according to a handout given to School Committee members at a meeting Wednesday by the Gorham Educational Support Personnel Association.

Homework help before school, extra help in study halls and planning time for teachers and ed techs are among the educational services that have been eliminated because of the cut, the handout said.

Members of the School Committee said Wednesday they will consider extending the workday of the district's 70 or so ed techs back to 6.5 hours a day, a $105,000 cost.

The adjustment was supported by Superintendent Ted Sharp, who also made the initial recommendation to cut ed techs' hours in his proposed 2013-2014 budget.

Reached by phone Thursday, Sharp said he was in a meeting in Augusta and didn't have time to talk about the situation.

Despite an outcry from staff, the School Committee approved the cut to ed techs' time last spring. Two months later, the district received $18 million in state aid – about $360,000 more than expected, said Finance Officer Hollis Cobb.

Ed techs stormed a School Committee meeting Wednesday, asking the board to use some of that unexpected state money to restore their hours. Voters would have to approve the spending of any money that wasn't included in the budget.

The board decided Wednesday it wanted to look first at whether it could use money from the approved budget to cover the expense, before deciding whether to hold a referendum.

If the board decides to hold a townwide vote, Cobb said, it probably would happen at the Nov. 5 election.

School Committee member Kathy Garrard said Thursday that the board supports restoring the hours. Testimony from ed techs on Wednesday, she said, gave her "the general sense that we weren't serving the kids to the level we had been previously serving them because of the cutback."

A drawback of going to referendum is that the process of restoring the hours couldn't happen for a couple of months, said Garrard.

"There may be other positives," she said. "We're just trying to look at all options."

The board's Finance Committee will discuss those options at a meeting Monday and make a recommendation to the full School Committee, which is scheduled to take a vote on the matter on Sept. 25, Cobb said.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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