During a meeting Thursday night, the longtime member of the Barrington Committee on Appropriations told members of the school board that he had studied the student enrollment figures for Barrington and seen a downward trend, a trend that did not support hiring more teachers but instead called for the reduction of the current staff.
“The trend line is down,” he said. “Whether you have a bump at Nayatt” or at other schools “I don’t care, because the trend line is down.”
In fact, members of the appropriations committee had studied the last few years of enrollment figures and reportedly seen a drop-off in student enrollment along with projections calling for fewer students in the future. They did not see the same drop-off in teaching positions, however.
The school department’s proposed budget initially called for a $1.7 million increase, which had dropped to a $1.2 million bump after teachers agreed to a single-year salary freeze in their new contract. Members of the committee on appropriations, meanwhile, are recommending a $900,000 increase for the school department, based partially upon a decrease in student enrollment.
Kathy Cadigan, chairwoman of appropriations, said she had seen the average class size at the high school go from 18.9 students per class to 17.6 students “over a short period of time.” She said the data she had studied supported a reduction of 11 teaching positions, although she quickly added that she did not support such a cut.
She appeared to point to the elimination of two teaching positions, stating that the cost of those salaries and benefits would pay for the technology improvements sought by school officials; administrators are requesting $275,000 for technology.
Mr. Sweetser also questioned the addition of an advanced placement art history class at the high school.
“We’re asking you to contract and you’re looking to expand?” he asked.
“You’re adding AP art history as enrollment drops by 60 at the high school?” Ms. Cadigan added.
School officials said the new course would not require a new teacher, rather a new assignment for a current staff member. “Are you asking us to decrease our offerings at the high school?” added Superintendent Mike Messore.
Mr. Sweetser said the district could not be all things to all people — if officials wanted to add in some areas they would need to reduce in others.
“We just don’t have the resources,” he said.
Bob Shea, the chairman of the school committee, countered that Barrington needed to be a forward-thinking district and plan for the future. He said reducing offerings would hurt the district.
Faith Moses, the student representative on the school committee, said she believed a decreased number of advanced placement classes would be a bad move for school officials. She said the AP courses are crucial to students who are interested in attending good colleges and universities.
Ms. Cadigan said it wasn’t a matter of reducing the classes but being more efficient with the offerings. She later said that curriculum and policy matters in the schools were not the business of the appropriations committee.
“We just see an incredible number of classrooms that have single numbers of students (at the high school),” she said.
Mr. Sweetser then added: “I have been having this conversation for a decade — you can’t say to the taxpayers ‘You people are going to have to suck it up.’”
“I don’t think that’s it,” replied Mr. Shea.