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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Support staff trims cause concern for Bedford schools

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LAMBERTVILLE - In the next two weeks, Bedford Public Schools may vote to eliminate roughly 30 staff positions as it looks for cost savings of about $1.3 million.

All of the cuts will be made through attrition - positions that will not be filled after they are vacated through retirements or reassignments.

Residents generally agree cuts through attrition are more humane than the 18 "pink slips" previously proposed. But at the district's last board meeting, parents, students, and staff stood up and lamented the loss of roughly 2.5 "student support coordinator" positions, which would save the district about $125,000.

The support coordinators work with students to help them through emotional issues.

About 15 people spoke during last week's board meeting and explained what life would be like with less student support.

"We cannot sacrifice the needs of these students, our most fragile students who do not always have the support that they need at home," said Barb Harris, a teacher at Smith Road Elementary.

"For many of them, coming to school may be the only one bright spot in their day," Ms. Harris said.

Karen Weis, Smith's support coordinator, is targeted to be transferred to a districtwide nursing position that has been vacated by retirements. Her support coordinator position would not be refilled.

Monroe Road Elementary's support coordinator, Cheryl Lykowski, also would be reassigned to fill a recently vacated teaching position at Jackman Road Elementary. Jackman Road's coordinator, Brenda Mack, would be cut to half time.

Temperance Road Elementary's coordinator, Tara Vancena, would split her time between Smith and Temperance elementary schools, and Lea Etts - the coordinator at Douglas Road Elementary - would split her time between Monroe and Douglas elementary schools.

"We are seeing positions that are outside of the classroom traveling more and more," said Wes Berger, assistant superintendent of human resources. "Nurs-ing, media specialists, and fifth-grade band teachers are having to hit more buildings because of this budget crisis."

"We are not eliminating [the women in the support coordinator positions]; we are just asking them to travel, like we are asking other groups to travel," Mr. Berger said.

Douglas Road teacher Julie Zimmerman said emotional issues can become "stumbling blocks to academic success if they are not addressed" and that she is worried about her students' well-being and future now that Ms. Etts may have to split her time between two schools.

"It will be to the detriment of all students - socially, academically, and emotionally," she said.

Ms. Vancena was crying as she explained her worries to the board.

"If I have less time, I'm not worried about my students with severe emotional issues, because their needs will be addressed. I'm worried that the ones in the middle will fall through the cracks and will then have emotional issues later on in life that are more severe," Ms. Vancena said.

Board member Mike Smith said that the decision to cut the support coordinator positions is not yet certain.

"All is not lost," he said.

The board will discuss the possible staff reductions at its committee of the whole meeting next Thursday at 7 p.m. in the administrative building, 1623 West Sterns Rd., and it will vote on the reductions at its budget meeting 6 p.m. June 26 at Monroe Road, 7979 Monroe Rd.

Other positions that are targeted for reduction are six teachers, 10-15 paraprofessionals, one junior high school assistant principal, one bus driver, one secretary, and one custodian.



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