Germantown school board enacts restoration drama

GERMANTOWN–The Board of Education voted this week not to abolish or reduce the faculty positions targeted for cuts in the 2012-13 budget approved by the voters June 19.

Despite all the debate over whether to take this step–two meetings, hours of discussion and a close vote, not to mention a second public vote on the budget after voters rejected the first proposal–the board’s action won’t change the total school district budget of $13.7 million.

Schools Superintendent Patrick Gabriel said by email after the decision, “The cost of the restorations will be covered through budget transfers.”

The issue emerged at the board’s July 11 annual reorganization meeting, which began with the election of Eric Mortenson president and Ronald Moore III vice-president. The sole “nay” vote to both came from Teresa Repko, former board vice-president.

Two hours later Mr. Moore moved that the board reinstate the previously reduced teaching staff. Mr. Mortenson seconded the motion.

In the ensuing discussion, Lynn Clum, former board president, objected to changing what the community had approved, and Brittany DuFresne agreed with her. Ms. Clum asked where the money would come from in the approved budget to pay the reinstated positions, without getting a clear answer.

Superintendent Gabriel said that a class schedule had been drafted “that provides for all student [class] requests at this point.” Restoring positions would require creating new classes.

Faydra Geraghty, the only new member of the board, said she didn’t have enough information to vote on the motion.

Board attorney Julie Shaw pointed out that with one exception–an elementary school teacher position abolished after a retirement–the board had never voted to abolish the positions it had discussed during budget negotiations. Without abolishing the positions, she said, the board could not reinstate them.

With the clock moving toward 10 p.m., the board tabled the vote it had been in the middle of–to reinstate the positions–until Tuesday, July 17.

On that date the board reconvened, again in front of a packed house in the elementary school music room. Ms. Shaw had written a resolution to abolish the positions. Ms. Clum moved to approve it and Ms. Dufresne seconded. The ensuing 45 minutes of discussion included reviewing with guidance director Amelia Gallagher every class planned or possible.

When Ms. Clum asked about funding the positions, Mr. Gabriel said, “We can find the money if the board wants to do this. From the beginning, discussions were about saving money. This discussion is different; it’s not about that.”

“For months we presented all these scenarios, and they didn’t include this,” said Ms. DuFresne. “I feel that this process is dishonest.”

Mr. Mortenson noted that the board had budgeted funds for retirement benefits, but those people did not retire. That money could be saved, or it could pay for additional teaching.

“We all want the same thing, we just see it in different ways,” he said, before calling the question.

Ms. Clum and Ms. Repko voted in favor of the abolition; Ralph DelPozzo, Ms. Geraghty, Mr. Moore and Mr. Mortenson voted against it. Ms. DuFresne abstained.

With that, the board went into executive session to discuss contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, which are in mediation, with a neutral third party assisting.

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