School Committee votes to reopen BEEP, amidst rescinding of layoffs


Jeremiah Levy

Interim Principal of BEEP, Regina Watts, explains how the program would operate in a pandemic environment.

The Brookline School Committee (BSC) met over Webex on June 11 to discuss the town’s budget, the progress in rescinding layoff notices and whether or not the Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP) will take place next year. All members of the BSC were present.

The meeting opened with a discussion about how the BSC should balance the budget. Initially, there was a proposal to reassign some of the maintenance funds, but that was overridden as the majority of BSC members agreed that safety and cleanliness should be prioritized, since most of the schools are very old buildings.

“There’s a lot of health and safety issues that come with building maintenance, such as air quality, fresh air and good light,” BSC member Jennifer Monopoli said. “I’ve been very happy with how the buildings have been maintained with the resources we have, and I’m concerned about taking any of that funding source away. It’s just such an important bucket of money for us, because if we let maintenance go, it’s just coming to come back at us as a much bigger problem.”

Interim Superintendent Ben Lummis then summarized the actions the BSC has already taken in order to balance the budget but noted that the budget gap is still at $500,000. Previously, the BSC had terminated some central administration positions and eliminated teachers’ universal 2 percent cost-of-living wage increases.

Lummis then discussed the progress that is being made in regards to rescinding layoff notices for the 362 laid-off teachers across the school system. Lummis said that the BSC has already rescinded all layoff notices for librarians and tenured math and literacy coaches, as well as all tenured teachers in the Enrichment Challenge and Support, Career and Technical Education, Health and Fitness are we certain? I heard that Liz Gorman has still not been recalled and Performing Arts departments.

“The only tenured teachers that have not been called back by the end of {June 11} will be visual arts and early education teachers,” Lummis said.

Lummis said paraprofessionals will be notified about their job status for the 2020-2021 school year by June 15, and that the BSC will begin bringing back as many non-tenured teachers as they can by the start of the next school year.

BSC member Barbara Scotto said that the rescinding of layoff notices is much more complex than it seems.

“It isn’t so simple to handle anything, either within the schools or within town hall, when you have crises like this,” Scotto said. “What strikes me is how much work is involved in everything from sending out the reduction-in-force (RIF) notices to getting them back.”

The BSC then shifted to a discussion about the size and scope of the BEEP program during the 2020-2021 school year. Regina Watts, the interim principal of BEEP, gave a presentation on the program’s history, the budget situation and what BEEP will look like next year if it is to resume.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education has outlined guidelines to protect students’ health. When school reconvenes in a physical space, all programs in the Brookline Public Schools (BPS), including BEEP, must abide by these regulations.

“The most relevant guideline is the restriction on the number of people you can have in a room to 12 people, including students and teachers,” said Watts. “100 families would have to wait until the restrictions are eased. We just cannot accommodate all of the students because of the restricted group size.”

This means that BEEP could only admit 125 students instead of the usual 275. The projected decrease in tuition would leave a funding gap of approximately $110,000.

Watts’ proposed plan to reopen 20 BEEP classrooms was approved by all BSC members except Sharon Abramowitz, who abstained.

Abramowitz worried that three to five-year-old students would not be willing to wear their masks at all times and that it would be impossible to create a socially distanced pre-k classroom. She expressed hesitation about reopening BEEP, noting the potential health hazard to students, staff and parents at home.

“My concern is it’s going to put educators at risk and put households at risk. I’m not sure we’re going to necessarily be able to pull through on our commitments to our staff and students,” Abramowitz said. “I also think there are some fundamental feasibility issues. If we are trying to open up BEEP, then we should be trying to open up a BEEP that kids can be kids in.”

Contributing reporting by Jeremiah Levy.