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May 14, 2013

Pink slips irk city teachers

Non-budget warnings tied to enrollments

Five Gloucester High School teachers got pink slips late last week in the wake of a budgeting shortfall, prompting some parents and officials to complain the cuts reflected a “cultural” bias.

But the most controversial loss may already be restored.

Announced last Tuesday, Mayor Carolyn Kirk’s $36.4 million proposed outlay for the school’s coming fiscal year was about $1 million — or 3 percent — more than the previous year, but $1.3 million less than the 6 percent hike the School Committee said it needed.

The Friday notifications were necessary to meet a contractual deadline, “to cover our bases,” said School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope.

The proposed budget is now in the hands of the City Council’s subcommittee on Budget and Finance, which could recommend revisions. In addition, Pope has said there might be school money freed up by healthcare savings or employment attrition.

School Superintendent Richard Safier said the reductions were not related to the budget, but to performance or inadequate enrollment in classes. He said more notifications due to “other headaches with the budget” might be forthcoming in situations — for instance, in situations where teaching positions could be combined. He said the contractual deadline for those notices is June 15.

One of the pink slips last week went to Jack Andrews, who teaches the highly regarded woodworking program that constructs an entire house each year.

“There was an enrollment problem,” said Pope, explaining there were two teachers for 21 pupils.

After a Monday afternoon meeting with teacher’s union president Andrea Pretzler – and because enrollment in the course was increasing almost overnight — Safier said he hoped to be able to retain the position. He said the reduction of Andrews was based solely on class size, while the other four eliminations, which went to “non-professional” status teachers, were based on performance.

Noting that some advanced placement classes had only a handful of students, city councilor Bruce Tobey said he was concerned that “some folks who are setting educational policy” – he specified the School Committee and superintendent – “see Gloucester as a leafy suburb with a school system like Lincoln or Manchester Essex that misses completely one of the things that makes this a great place.”

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