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Deerfield elementary presents 4% budget hike

Proposal still includes cuts to teacher, aide, nurse positions

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Next school year, there could be one less foreign language teacher, two aides, library assistant, psychology position and special needs nurse at Deerfield Elementary School.

Those cuts are included in the proposed $4,335,693 budget that takes effect July 1. The draft represents a $173,484, or 4.17 percent, increase over the current year.

The budget is not final. The School Committee has a month to vote on a final budget and submit it to the town.

The Board of Selectmen has requested all town departments limit their budgets to 2 percent increases. The Deerfield Elementary School Committee is planning to meet with the Finance Committee to discuss the budget and to determine whether it is possible to increase the school budget slightly to avoid some personnel cuts.

The school administration has proposed eliminating the foreign language teacher for $38,161. One instructional aide would be reduced through attrition, saving $17,257. Another part-time library assistant position would also be eliminated through attrition, saving $4,953.

The school would also eliminate a $14,026 psychologist position, which was added two years ago to assist with testing. The school will continue to have one full-time psychologist.

On the operations side, decreases are $2,260 in educational supply accounts, which includes textbooks, early childhood, and speech supply accounts, $1,550 in advertising, $30,002 in regular transportation due to a new contract that reduces the per day bus cost from $128.56 to $127. Special education transportation costs would decrease by $15,000, principal professional development would decrease $2,400 and field trip transportation would decrease $1,200.

The budget increased due to $149,046 more in raises and $25,000 for the town’s share of an early childhood teacher.

In the past, the teacher’s salary was offset by tuition from the half-day pre-school program. But due to a flat tuition rate and increased number of families on the sliding scale tuition, collections have decreased, school officials said. The increasing number of special education referrals is also a drain on revenue.

On the operational side, increases amounted to $131,683, or 3.16 percent, increase.

Support services for both sight and hearing impaired students who are being mainstreamed have increased $18,600.

The biggest concern among parents and teachers at a public hearing this week was the proposed reduction of a part-time foreign language teacher.

Chuck Edgerly has taught at the school for 11 years, teaching kindergarten through second grades. He visits each class twice a week, teaching Spanish and English language learning. The position would remain as a four-tenths-time English language teacher job.

Citing his guitar and lessons on cultural diversity, parents and teachers asked the school committee to keep Edgerly’s position full time. They argued his lessons make the school unique and help students learn Spanish at an early age, a pivotal time in language acquisition.

School Committee member G. David Sharp said he “couldn’t vote for a budget that cuts the Spanish position.”

He asked the committee to consider asking for a larger budget increase.

Superintendent Martha Barrett warned that if it isn’t the Spanish position, then it could be another position.

“That’s the problem. I don’t have $45,000 in textbooks, supplies to cut,” Barrett said. “We’d be trading one position for another.”

Principal Jeanine Heil said the decision to reduce the position was because students do not receive any Spanish instruction in grades 3 to 7 until they get to Frontier Regional School. The school considered whether there was any benefit to having Spanish lessons early on and then not receiving any more instruction until years later.

“We have to look at reductions — the budget and practices and what makes sense. We have to take the person out of it,” Heil said.

The School Committee tabled its decision until it meets with the Finance Committee.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

The Spanish program in the younger grades is invaluable to these early learners. Maestro does more than just teach colors and numbers in a foreign language, he is a kind, loving person whom the children look forward to seeing each week. My children used to come home and teach us the Spanish songs and games Maestro taught them. I will certainly be at town meeting to vote not to lose this wonderful and important part of our early learning curriculum. How sad that just because the older students don't have the benefit of Maestro's instruction, we should take this away from everyone....if we were smart we would vote to extend Maestro into the upper grades to give the children at DES the edge they need heading into Frontier.

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