By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — An unexpected budget shortfall of about $650,000 may force the School Committee to lay off six teachers.
Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson and Business Administrator James Mealey told the School Committee last night most of the deficit resulted from increased special education costs. Hutchinson said he and other school leaders had no intention of putting the blame on students who receive special education services.
There is “no question about the validity of special education,” Hutchinson said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The superintendent said he and Mealey learned about the unanticipated expenses and out-of-district placements after the annual Town Meeting approved the $39.9 million budget May 21. The School Department budgeted $4,215,291 for out-of-town tuition for 69 students, according to figures presented by Hutchinson.
That number rose by more than a half-million dollars, to $4,796,489, when an additional seven students were identified as needing services in other districts, according to Hutchinson’s numbers. State law requires that teachers be notified by June 15 if they face the possibility of losing their positions.
Mealey said special education costs are “not predictable.”
Hutchinson and School Committee members made it clear they don’t want to lay off any educators. State Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, whose 14th Essex District includes five of North Andover’s eight precincts, noted the state budget is now in the hands of a conference committee of senators and representatives.
She said she hopes the Legislature will approve enough aid to cities and towns so that North Andover does not have to dismiss any teachers — something the town has not done for at least six years. DiZoglio said she was scheduled to meet with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, today to discuss the budget.
Hutchinson did not name the teachers who might lose their jobs. The reductions that could be made to erase the shortfall, he said, include $414,721 in teacher positions, $134,129 in librarian positions and $100,000 in tutors.
Hutchinson said the committee could save some of the teachers’ jobs by using the $150,000 special education contingency fund.
“This is extremely disturbing,” said Zachary Murray, who will be a North Andover High senior next year and helps out in the school library. One of the people who received a layoff notice is Laura Harrison, a library aide.
Harrison is only a few years older than NAHS students and they find her “very easy to relate to,” Murray said. This makes it easier for students to obtain what they need in the library, he explained.
Many parents spoke on behalf Lori Stalteri, the media specialist/librarian for the elementary schools, whose job is also threatened.
“I am so angered that we are here,” said Melissa Martin, who noted that Stalteri’s job was “on the chopping block” last winter. Martin and other parents said the instruction children receive from Stalteri helps prepare them for the research papers they’ll have to write in the higher grades.
“It doesn’t seem like a wise decision,” said Kristi Hale, another parent.
With the state budget — and financial aid from the state — still unsettled, the committee did not decide the fate of the teachers last night.
School Committee Chairman Stanley Limpert, elected to that post last night, said the North Andover schools would have been forced in prior years to make “significant layoffs” without federal stimulus money, which is no longer available.