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Education

Bedford Schools notifies 13 teachers of layoffs

Group is 1st to feel effects of decision to close Smith Road Elementary

TEMPERANCE -- Thirteen teachers have been told they will receive pink slips from Bedford Schools, becoming the first district employees to feel the financial impact from the decision to close Smith Road Elementary.

School officials said the layoffs, which will go before the Board of Education Thursday for approval, are the first wave of personnel cuts as the district, facing a projected $4.6 million deficit, must reduce costs for the next school year.

Howard Schwager, director of human resources and labor relations, told the board at last week's committee of the whole session that administrators met Feb. 18 personally with the teachers and gave them letters notifying them of the pending layoffs.

All but one of the targeted positions are elementary teachers.

The school board approved a recommendation on Jan. 6 from Superintendent Ted Magrum to close Smith Road Elementary in June and shift the sixth grades at the remaining four elementary buildings to the junior high next year.

"There is nothing related to job performance on any of this. This is strictly due to economic necessity as a result of closing down Smith and moving the sixth grade to the junior high," Mr. Schwager said.

Because the contract with the Bedford Education Association calls for the district to notify teachers before May 1 that they could lose their jobs in the next school year, Mr. Schwager advised the board to be ready for more layoff requests in the next two months. "We anticipate additional staffing adjustments between now and the May 1 deadline. I don't want to speculate as to a number," he said. " But I would consider what is coming before the board on March 3 as the first round of layoffs."

The elementary consolidation required redistricting of students and transportation routes. Parents recently were told the schools their students will attend next September.

Closing the 40-year-old elementary is expected to save the district $650,000 annually, with most savings achieved by eliminating personnel.

Colleen Jan, president of the 308-member teachers' union, said layoffs are always troubling, but especially this year in that the district hired 21 new teachers.

"My heart goes out to everyone who is being laid off. In this economic climate, to be sure, it is never an easy task," she said. "The closing of Smith Road should have happened a couple years ago. Those 21 people hired this year, no doubt, they are all in jeopardy."

The board also will consider a recommendation from the administration to close the Bedford Educational Child Care Center on Sterns Road in June. Similar to the school closing and redistricting, the closure is designed to cut costs from the budget.

The child care center, which the district started about 10 years ago for children 18 months old to 4 years old, has operated in the red for several years.

Josh Dyer, chief financial officer, told school officials the center has lost $60,000 over the last four years. Projections indicate it stands to lose $15,000 this year, despite efforts to cut costs in the program and the hourly pay received by its employees.

"At this point, there are few places to go as far as the operation to find enough savings to make it a break even or profit-making center," Mr. Dyer said. "My recommendations is that we cease operations at the end of the school year."

The licensed child-care center is open year-round from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and employes 11 people, who care for as many as 29 children. The center also houses a latch-key kindergarten program.

Pat Alcock, director of the child-care center, said she was "saddened" by the administration's decision but "not surprised."

"The only thing that I ask is that we [be] kept informed. I understand when the parents discover when we are closing some parents might find care sooner than others," she said. "We just need information."

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