Paper cuts in Haverhill

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Shawn Regan reports in the Eagle Tribune that “the greatest myth in the [Haverhill] school district” is “that city schools have been losing dozens of teachers every year due to budget cuts.” Not so.

But in truth, the number of teachers in the district has grown by four in each of the previous three years, according to information provided by the Haverhill teachers union — figures school administrators don’t dispute.

Several School Committee members who have voted to eliminate teachers for several years in a row said they were surprised by the revelation.

“The community and certainly the School Committee has believed teachers are going down every year because we’ve been cutting them,” School Committee President Scott Wood said after being shown the teachers union’s membership figures. “Turns out, it’s not true.”

Some of you may wonder, how is it possible for the School Committee to vote to eliminate 36 teaching positions and never have that happen? Now that they are stuck with a tremendous shortfall, they are nowhere near ready to face it. Cue Regan:

A review of school records and information provided by the teachers union shows that not only were the teaching positions restored by school officials around the start of this school year, but also that teacher ranks actually increased by four this year to 572.

Three years in a row come votes to cut teachers. Three years in a row the cuts do not happen. Mayor James Fiorentini is chairman of the School Committee—and he is, well, surprised.

“I’ve been saying for years that the schools are not cutting like they say they have been,” he said. “The bigger issue is all the damage the School Committee and School Department has done by always talking about teachers being eliminated and insisting the schools have been cut by $20 million the last few years.”

The school budget has actually increased by $9.3 million, or 20 percent, in the last five years, from $47,120,120 to $56,503,817 this year, Fiorentini said.

The mayor contends that the budget “rhetoric” used by School Committee members and administrators has been deliberate.

“The School Department has exaggerated their budget problems to try to get more money from the city, when in fact we haven’t cut anything,” Fiorentini said. “Now there are real cuts coming to the schools, and the public is not going to believe us.”

He said the school situation is particularly frustrating because the city has laid off 45 workers over the last five years due to budget cuts.

Last word to School Committee President Scott Wood:

“We voted to eliminate the positions, and the law says they can’t be restored without our permission, so why would we ask whether it actually happened?” Wood said. “A few of us may have given our opinion about what we would like to see brought back with any extra money, but we never voted as a body to restore any teachers.”

Yup. Folks, districts all over the state face will soon face the same facts. All the talk about cuts over the past four or five years were paper cuts. (If you want one great example, look at the mess in Fall River that the former Superintendent Nick Fischer left behind.) Problem is that now, with grant money dwindling fast and the CFOs looking under every rock, we will pay the price.