District leaders: cuts motivated by need for flexibility

Over+300+pink+slips+were+issued+to+district+faculty+yesterday%2C+laying+off+all+non-tenured+teachers%2C+paraprofessionals%2C+librarians%2C+visual+arts+teachers+and+many+more.+The+district+made+these+cuts+to+allow+for+more+flexibility+in+the+fall.

GRAPHIC BY GRAHAM KREWINGAUS

Over 300 pink slips were issued to district faculty yesterday, laying off all non-tenured teachers, paraprofessionals, librarians, visual arts teachers and many more. The district made these cuts to allow for more flexibility in the fall.

The high school and the school district at large have had a chaotic 48 hours. In response to sweeping layoffs that came to light yesterday, public forums have lit up with indignation, petitions have been created and many questions have, as of yet, been left unanswered.

In response to concerns voiced by the community about the breadth and severity of the cuts, district leaders are now trying to clarify the purpose of this, claiming that these cuts allow for maximum flexibility upon the return to school next fall.

Over 300 teachers and faculty have been given reduction-in-force notices (RIFs or ‘pink slips’), meaning termination of employment. Among those most impacted by the cuts are all three elective departments (Career and Tech Ed, Visual Arts and Performing Arts), Health and Fitness, K-12 libraries and the Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP).

Earlier today, BSC Chair Julie Schreiner-Oldham and Vice-Chair Suzanne Federspiel sent out an open letter addressing rumors that had arisen on public forums such as the Brookline Public Schools Facebook group. The letter sought to assure the community that the current state of the district is a temporary one put together in response to urgent time constraints.

“At present, we do not have clear direction or guidance regarding whether school buildings will reopen in the fall or what those conditions may require in terms of staffing, supplies and materials, and services. We have had less than 14 days to identify reductions to our budget for next year,” Schreiner-Oldham and Federspiel wrote. “We believe that we may be able to address many of these questions prior to the start of the next academic year, but we need more time to put a high-quality educational plan into place that will ensure the health and safety of all of our students and staff.”

Federspiel, also a member of BSC’s Finance Subcommittee, said that the contract between the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) and the BSC originally mandated that all layoffs be announced by May 15.

“Then the School Committee made an agreement with the BEU that we’d push that date up to May 30,” Federspiel said. “So we’re required, if we’re going to lay anybody off, to let them know by then. We had to make some decisions about how to do that, and what Mr. Lummis asked is that we think broadly about that. Not because we want to lay off a lot of teachers, but because we need to have flexibility in our planning for the fall.”

Interim Superintendent Ben Lummis could not be reached for comment. According to Federspiel, the need to keep next year as open to change as possible shaped the majority of the cuts, making them broader in scope to increase responsiveness to the complexity of the schools’ situation in the fall.

“We’re hoping to bring everybody back, but we don’t know what the fall is going to look like,” Federspiel said. “We needed the flexibility to have our teachers work on a different schedule, maybe work part-time, come the fall. If we didn’t let them know now, we would not be able to do that.”

Elizabeth Brennan, a teacher in the Visual Arts Department who has worked in Brookline for 29 years, said that this narrative was present in her RIF letter. However, she is not ready to take the BSC and Lummis at their word about bringing everyone back.

“Lummis did say that they had to make sweeping layoffs so that they could figure out what school was going to look like next year,” Brennan said. “He also said most people will return, but frankly, I’m not quite believing anything that’s coming out of Town Hall right now.”

Federspiel said that she understands the frustration and the stress of these cuts, and she explained that it is possible that some of these cuts will stick. She said the BSC hopes, however, that all laid-off faculty will be brought back once school has returned to normal, in-person learning.
“It could be that some are laid off while the school buildings are closed {and we are in} remote learning, but when the buildings are opened they come back,” Federspiel said. “There are a lot of unknowns and I know that’s really hard for people, but that’s how it is right now.”

Contributed reporting by Elena Su.