District Cuts Bring Emotional Response from Students, Parents

L.K. MATA CUEVAS
For The Westfield Leader

WESTFIELD — Residents turned out en masse to object to staffing cuts as the Westfield Board of Education (BOE) approved its 2022-2023 budget Tuesday night.

Westfield High School Cafeteria B was at full capacity as parents and students passionately advocated on behalf of arts teachers and programs to be cut off in an attempt to address an approximately $2.3-million budget shortfall.

The personnel agenda, which was approved with seven out of nine votes in favor, proposed what the board presented as “reductions in force,” in order to reduce the budget. Board members Michael Bielen and Leila Morrelli cast the two dissenting votes.

The positions being eliminated for next year include one intermediate-school music teacher, two intermediate art teachers, one high-school music teacher, one theater production manager, a total of eight secretaries, one elementary World Language teacher, six elementary-school teachers, two intermediate math interventionists, 0.8 intermediate ELA interventionist and one high-school science teacher. Included in the same agenda item was the addition of two intermediate civics teachers and the hiring of a new assistant business administrator/assistant board secretary for $135,000.

“It’s a necessary action to eliminate these positions from the operating budget,” said Superintendent Raymond González, Ed.D., during the presentation. “Therefore, it does require action by the board this evening.”

From the very beginning of the meeting, the attendees showed their feelings about the decisions made towards the arts program. After board member Amy Root announced that the Westfield Public Schools district had been named one of the best communities for music education in the nation for the fifth consecutive year, one audience member called out, “the irony.”

The environment intensified when the BOE opened the public-comment session on agenda items, which went on for more than two hours with about 40 residents — including students, parents and teachers — lining up to express their concerns and to plead with the board to reconsider its position about the budget, which many considered as targeting the arts department.

Senior and WHS Choir President Kayla Louison expressed to the board how proud she is to be in one of the top arts programs of the state. Yet, she was concerned and sad about the class environment Wednesday morning.

“I know a lot of kids, especially choir kids, are not going to be so great,” Ms. Louison told The Westfield Leader. “We have (a) ceremony coming up for our musical, and with D-Fab [Matthew DiFabio, district production manager] gone, even if we win, there’s a feeling that the person who made this, the person in charge of this, is not going to be recognized because he is leaving.”

Resident Lori Lamonica pointed out the importance of arts teachers in recognizing artistic talent within Westfield students. “I believe there were something like 27 kids that made it into regional choir,” said Mrs. Lamonica. “Who is going to be there to recognize them?”

She also brought to the board’s attention that just as the athletic program needs different coaches and assistant coaches to function at a high level, those assistant positions are needed by the arts as well. “There’s been no cuts mentioned in sports,” Mrs. Lamonica stated. “I also have kids in sports; I’m not being negative with that.”

Parent Joseph Logozzo asked board members to think about the message they are sending to the community with the approval of the budget. “Please do consider not making a targeted decision, because that’s the perception right now,” Mr. Logozzo advised.

Westfield mathematics teacher Louis DeAngelo reminded the board to think about the Westfield slogan of “Traditional Excellence,” which is meant to apply to all branches of education. “Nobody is denying the budget situation; that we see, but when there is an issue that cuts may become necessary, it is essential that those cuts be done equitable across the board,” Mr. DeAngelo said. “Excellence is also in lean times, everyone giving a little bit, so no one has to give a lot.”

Superintendent González and Business Administrator Dana Sullivan, once again presented the $116 million 2022-2023 budget before it’s approval by the board.

Dr. Gonzalez started the presentation with background information and an overview of the school budget going back to 2010. “Please understand, process-wise, the development of the budget is based on each department telling us what they need to be able to provide for their areas of operation,” Dr. González said. He also said that, because of the board including all that the departments wanted to do, the budget as it was designed initially “immediately overran the 2-percent tax-levy increase” that the board is allowed by law.

The total revenue for the district is comprised of $107.6 million from the local tax levy, which will increase by 1 percent this year, according to the presentation. On the expenditure side, salaries and benefits make up the largest piece, totaling approximately $93.8 million.

Ultimately the board passed the budget by an 8-1 vote, with Mr. Bielen voting no.

The next BOE meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 3.

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