The Halifax Elementary School Committee met in-person on Monday, April 4. Committee Chair Summer Schmaling opened the floor for public comment. Richard Bayramshian of the Halifax Teachers’ Assocation (HTA) spoke saying, “it’s important to understand why the Teachers’ Association is making their plea tonight for a fair and respectful contract moving forward. After receiving a 1.6 percent raise for one year in January of 2021, seven months after our old contract expired in June of 2020, negotiations started back up in February of 2021; the starting point was an offer of 0 percent until Finance Committee and final budget was set for the upcoming fiscal school year of 2022-2023.”
Bayramshian said that the HTA requested that they be paid the stipend that all town employees received but he said that request was denied. Bayramshian said that the final offer the School Committee proposed was for two years at 1 percent and 1.5 percent which the HTA brought back to the Union, who voted it down. He said that a second meeting was scheduled for March 9 which Bayramshian said was put off several times by the School Committee due to not having a quorum. He said that the mediation date was set for May 3, nearly three months after the original scheduled date.
“I’ve been a teacher here for almost 30 years; I’ve been negotiating for nearly half that time. I’ve considered the town of Halifax and HES as my second family. I’ve run over 20 years of fundraisers… I’ve run after school sports programs…,” Bayramshian said. He said that the HTA has been without a contract for nine months and that what they really hoped to accomplish was a three-year contract in line with cost of living increases and inflation rates. “My own paycheck has decreased the last three years,” Bayramshian explained.
Steve Ruisi, also of the HTA, spoke next saying that he shared many of the same sentiments expressed by Bayramshian. “Our message is simple; invest more in teachers,” Ruisi said. He went on to say that it was disappointing to be there to discuss the lack of progress with the negotiations. “It has been very clear throughout these negotiations that investing in teachers’ salaries have never been a serious priority,” Ruisi told the Committee. He said that both Kingston and Plympton settled their contracts early in the winter saying the towns rewarded them for what they have done over the last two years throughout the pandemic. Ruisi said that in initial drafts of the budget, teachers’ salaries were decreased by $36,000 rather than being level funded. He said that the HTA received no response from the School Committee when they pointed out the decrease and demanded to be level funded. “Earlier in the spring as unprecedented stimulus money was approved for towns and schools, we were again optimistic; at that time and still, a large majority of that money was and still is unspent,” Ruisi said. He also said that inflation is estimated at 6 percent and the teachers were only asking for a 2 percent increase. He said it was important to note that as the previous year’s inflation rates were used, in part, to justify the one year, one percent contract. He said the teachers were “crushed, shocked, and disappointed” to be the only town employees not to receive the stipend.
Kindergarten teacher Tiffany Easter spoke next. She began by thanking the School Committee for the opportunity to speak before them. “I just wanted to get up here tonight and shed some light on the reality of teaching in Halifax right now. I know I speak for many others when I say this as a sixth-year teacher with a Master’s degree working toward paying off undergrad student debt, keeping up with the cost of living, paying for rising health insurance costs – right now I am forced to work three jobs,” Easter told the Committee. “We can’t put students first if we are putting teachers last,” she finished.
Tara Tonello, a parent of a student at HES, spoke after Easter. She acknowledged that she could not fathom the “intricacies” of the tasks faced by the Committee. “However, I am aware that the teachers have been working with an outdated contract this current school year,” she said. She said that when it takes this long to accomplish something, in this case agree to a new contract, the general impression is that it is not a priority. The reply, addressed to the teachers said, “I hope you know that you are valued, appreciated, and incredibly respected.”
School Committee member Jim Keegan spoke saying he has a child at HES as well as another at the Middle School. He said that both himself and his wife were born and raised in Halifax and that they wanted to make sure that their children went through the Silver Lake school system. Keegan said that he could not be happier with the education that their children are receiving and said that everyone that he speaks to in town are in complete agreement. “I support our schools and I support our teachers,” Keegan said. He cautioned against using social media as a member of any group including a union, saying that it can easily become divisive. “When we are using social media and using bits and pieces to fit our agenda, it doesn’t do anything but separate us; as a parent, I would hope that everyone would use caution when using social media,” Keegan said.
Schamling thanked everyone for attending but said that she wished that more people would have been in attendance during their budget hearing.
There was a school choice hearing which allows the School Committee to opt out of school choice. School choice is a program that allows Massachusetts schools to accept students from other towns in the State. Superintendent Jill Proulx made it clear that school choice does not allow for discrimination based on race, gender, athletic achievement, academic achievement, etc. The administration recommended against choosing school choice due to the large class sizes. The School Committee voted unanimously to opt out of school choice.
Keegan provided a Youth and Rec update. He said that sinkholes were currently getting fixed that were located on the Babe Ruth Field. Keegan also said that adult volleyball was scheduled to begin April 29 at 7 p.m.
A PTO update was given by committee member Jennifer Carroll. She said the bookfair this year was the most successful one to date raising $50,000. She also said that field trips are returning. The newspaper club for Grades 4-6 was approved by Youth and Rec and is seeking volunteers to chaperone. Field Day will be Monday, June 13 with a rain date of Tuesday, June 14.
Principal Kayne Beaudry began his update by saying, “I just want to put it out there to just recognize the fact that we don’t appreciate teachers enough…we do appreciate all that the teachers do especially the last two years were rough, and I wouldn’t want to be beside anyone else… they did a wonderful job trying to figure out how to teach during COVID.” Beaudry said that conferences were held and were offered either in-person or remote. He also said that kindergarten registration went live on February 7. MCAS would be held that week.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch spoke about the Student Opportunity Act saying that it sought to close learning gaps. He said that additional Chapter 70 funding did not happen in 2021 due to the pandemic and additional federal aid. He noted that the funds would be available for 2022-2023 and that based on Halifax’s demographics, that increase netted about $16,000. He said that one of the goals was to take a math interventionist position and move it from a 0.49 position to a 1.0 or full-time position. Lynch said that Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) funds can be used to fund that position through 2024.
Administrator of Special Education Marie Grable provided an update on an assessment that was completed regarding special education services in Halifax. She said that of the 36 areas reviewed, 35 were deemed successfully implemented. Only one service was considered partially implemented. She said that every district has an obligation to locate students with special needs that are either homeschooled or enrolled in a private school by their caregivers. The district has a responsibility to identify these students and with parent consent, consult on how and if any eligible funding would help the student to obtain eligible services. She said that since this area is only partially implemented, they would be looking to finer tune the process.
Proulx asked the Committee to increase the pay for long-term substitutes to make them more aligned with other local districts. She said the possibility to reduce the rate in the future could be explored should long-term substitutes become more readily available. Committee Chair Gordon Andrews asked Beaudry if there were currently any open long-term substitute positions at HES and was told there was not. Andrews clarified that voting the increase would not cost them anything right now but would make them competitive should the need arise for a long-term substitute. The increase would be from $95 a day to $272. Schmaling said she was in favor of learning more about the increase’s full impact on the budget before voting in favor of it. The Committee decided to discuss it further at their next meeting.