With a proposal to eliminate more than 18 positions within East Lyme Public Schools for the 2023-2024 school year, scores of educators and parents packed the town’s board of education meeting last night to urge them to avoid cuts. The cuts, proposed ahead of a May 18 budget referendum, would include elementary school teachers, paraeducators, an instructional technology coach, and library aides, as well as positions within the Coastal Connections alternative high school program.
“The proposed budget document presented to the public concedes that such drastic reductions will be harmful to the students in East Lyme public schools,” said East Lyme Teachers’ Association President Scott Mahon, a high school English teacher. “Making a cut in one area, the result is felt well beyond a particular classroom. To date, there are approximately 9 teaching positions that have been considered as expendable reductions, the majority of them in perhaps the most vulnerable of our learning community—the elementary level. That astounds me every time I think of it – that we are going to lose highly trained, highly regarded educators who make a calculable difference in the lives of East Lyme’s children. At a time when the stresses of the last few years have not eased for teachers, when they continue the struggle to close the learning gaps for our children, when they continue to care for the social, emotional, and mental health of our children, when they continue to do the excellent work that makes the East Lyme educational system a household name, they are being let go.”
Cuts hurt kids
“I’m disappointed in the proposed cuts,” parent Emily Shrader addressed the board. “The tech ed program teaches invaluable skills to our kids. My middle schooler remarked to me the other day that students who move to the middle school from other towns without tech ed programs struggle with typing and navigating their computers. Clearly the tech ed program is beneficial to our kids, and further, our teachers deserve that block of planning time.” She added, “East Lyme has not escaped the achievement gap brought on by COVID, and our paraprofessionals are invaluable in helping close that achievement gap. We are investing a smaller percentage of our grand list in our schools at a time when additional services are needed to make up for the achievement gaps brought on by COVID. With all that our children have been through the past three years and the negative effect it has had on their academic achievement and emotional growth, now is not the time to decrease our investments in our schools or reduce the services we offer our children. I strongly urge this board to have the courage to propose an increase that maintains the level of services our children need.”
“We moved to East Lyme expressly for the excellent school system and the superior quality of education we wanted our three children to experience, but during my 20 years as a paraeducator, I’ve seen many increases that affect the quality of education we deliver,” said Chris Majchrzak. “Classroom sizes have increased, student academic needs have increased, student social-emotional needs have increased, special education numbers have increased, disruptive classroom behaviors have increased, and educator expectations and responsibilities have increased, to name just a few. To make further cuts to teachers, paras, and support staff will only undermine our mission to prepare students academically, socially, and emotionally to be responsible, positive forces in this challenging world.”
“I’m an engineer and the father of two little girls, and I hope the board considers the costs associated with larger class sizes, lower test scores, less student attention, less special needs support, and extra time and stress directly on teachers,” said East Lyme parent Brian Zahnstecher. “I’d also like you to hear directly and look in the face of knowing just what this is—and these are not just line items—so I’ve asked my daughter Roxie to describe what it would be like if East Lyme looked more like where we came from, in California, where class sizes under 30 are considered small.”
“It would be harder to teach,” the young elementary schooler explained to the board. “Here, our teacher is actually paying attention to everybody, and if we didn’t have our helper in the morning, then we wouldn’t be able to do math stations, which is something everybody likes.”
“My children are at Lillie B. Haynes Elementary, and we are bursting at the seams,” said parent Sarah Susco. “Eliminating these positions is concerning to me.” She added, “I implore the board to reconsider the proposed cuts and am asking them to consider other options.”
Pat Esny, president of the secretarial union at East Lyme Public Schools, also spoke of the 18.5 positions threatened with cuts, including library aides and others who, she pointed out, “interact daily with students—they know their names, they know their parents, and they know when they’re having a hard time. These layoffs will have a long-lasting negative impact on our schools, school libraries, teachers, and most importantly, our students. They will affect student learning, educational quality, and educator morale. Layoffs are so embedded as a short-term, cost-saving solution that the fact that they create more problems than they solve is ignored.”
Local business owner and parent Kyle Douton urged fellow residents to attend meetings of the board of finance and board of selectmen.
“My kids are our family’s fifth generation in this town,” said Douton, “and I know a lot of the older residents like to go to these meetings and talk about how the kids should be able to do it with the blackboards they had years ago. Well, that’s not the case right now, and we need everyone to get together and attend those other meetings and push as hard as we can for more money. It costs a lot to operate the school system, and the board of education should be able to ask for an increase to support our schools. As a business owner in town, I’m doing my part to push others to do the same.”