Pandemic causes more staffing concerns for HWRSD

June 24, 2020 | Sarah Heinonen

HAMPDEN/WILBRAHAM – Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District Superintendent Albert Ganem reported at the June 18 meeting that both Hampden and Wilbraham had passed their respective town budgets, which included the tax assessment to fund the school district. Committee Member Bill Bontempi thanked the residents of both towns for passing the budget.

On the topic of staffing, Ganem said that of the more than 80 staff members that had received “reduction of force” letters – a separation notice commonly sent to school faculty and staff at the end of the school year – all but 14 had been recalled. He said that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the reduction of the workforce beyond the 15 positions that were cut as part of the fiscal year 2021 budget. Similarly, of the 105 furloughed paraprofessionals, 95 had received letters of assurance for a position in the next school year.

“I have to make sure we’re able to afford it if [the state] comes back with those 20 percent reductions,” to aid Ganem said. He said he hope to be able to bring the remaining faculty and staff back on for the fall.

School Committee Member Sherrill Caruana asked how these cuts will affect class sizes, but Ganem explained that he has to wait for CDC recommendations on class size to get firm numbers. He said higher overall class sizes were likely in the fifth grades, middle school and high school, both in elective classes as well as core classes.

School Committee Member Maura Ryan asked about the reconfiguration plan, which had been in its initial stages at the beginning of the year. He told her that it is on hold due to the pandemic.

Caruana read a resolution from Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) asserting that COVID-19 safeguards cannot be handed down without the funding from the state to support their implementation.

Chair Patrick Kiernan acknowledged that the committee ran up against the state’s open meeting laws when it discussed a matter in executive session that should have been handled in open session. Kiernan said he has been in touch with the Attorney General’s Office and, to remedy the situation, the committee will undergo training on the rules and purpose of executive session.

The Hampden Wilbraham Education Association (HWEA) union sent out a survey to its educators asking for feedback on the remote learning experience and concerns for the next year. The district will be sending out its own survey shortly.

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