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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Norwich school officials eliminate 52 positions, more cuts to come

    Norwich ― The Board of Education meeting room was packed Tuesday night with many attendees wearing, “I support Music” stickers amid fears that music instruction could be the victim of budget cuts.

    Board Chairman Mark Kulos announced prior to the public comment period that school leaders had no plans to eliminate music. But Acting Superintendent Susan Lessard’s initial cuts included three music teaching positions.

    Lessard said the district is not eliminating middle school band or instrumental music.

    The school district faces major budget cuts this spring. The board approved a $100 million 2024-25 school budget, an increase of $10 million. But City Manager John Salomone proposed a $93.27 million total, $6.8 million less than the board requested.

    In addition, Norwich has used $4.8 million in federal COVID-19 recovery grants to fund 52 staff positions and three school resource police officers. That grant money ends in June.

    Lessard’s $5 million in proposed cuts and restructuring Tuesday first tackled the $4.8 million loss of federal COVID-19 grants. The district still faces the city’s $6.8 million cut.

    The board’s only budget vote Tuesday approved cutting 44 non-tenured teaching positions. Lessard said the teachers were informed in advance and would receive letters Wednesday, along with a list of 25 full-time positions and two part-time open positions they could apply for.

    Along with the three music teachers ― including one position currently vacant ― Lessard proposed restructuring math and reading specialists cutting the current 35 positions to 11.

    Instead, the district would have reading and math instructional coaches in each school to work with principals and teachers. Board member Heather Fowler questioned the dramatic change, with state test scores still low. Lessard said the district was not getting results with the previous system and hopes the restructuring will help students progress.

    Four instructional coaches also were cut. Three physical education teachers, five counselors, two social workers, one art teacher, a library instructor and an elective teacher for international pen-pals also were cut.

    Lessard cut eight administrative positions, including four middle school assistant principals, three special education supervisors and one elementary school assistant principal.

    “It’s been a very sensitive process,” Lessard said of the restructuring. “We have a lot to cut, so we try to be equitable about how we cut. … Every position that was being billed is important to all of us. We wish we could keep every position. But I just want to remind everyone, we are in a $7 million difference right now.”

    During public comment, speakers, including several students now at Norwich Free Academy, lauded the elementary and middle school music programs. Students said those programs ignited a passion for music that sustained them during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

    Parent Jessica Quay asked the board for more transparency on the budget cuts to avoid rumors. She said her children came home and told her their music teacher was being cut.

    “Everything is very private and very hush, hush,” Quay said. “There’s never conversation about your actions and your plans. I don’t understand how parents and students can actively fight for something when they are not given any facts.”

    Several NFA students cited national studies confirming the importance of music education to student success. They urged the school board to reinstate the music positions.

    “Throughout middle and high school, music remained a cornerstone for me,” NFA student Samantha Schies told the school board, “nourishing my passions and shaping my character. Music for me transcends words, allowing for expression when words don’t suffice. … It has become the very essence of my existence, seeing me through both highs and lows in my life.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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