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Just three months after ending a teachers’ strike, the Andover School Committee is facing off with the union that represents teachers and instructional assistants in a budget debate aimed at closing a $2.7 million deficit. At the heart of the standoff is a proposal that would eliminate as many as 34 full-time positions.

The Andover Education Association maintains the district’s payroll is bloated with non-student facing administrative positions, while Andover Public Schools argues enrollment has been declining and that, even with the cuts, class sizes will remain within guidelines set by the school committee.

With five candidates running for two seats in the March 26 election, we asked school committee hopefuls where they stood in the budget debate.

Full Statements From Candidates

Susan McCready (candidate for reelection)

The school budget is divided into two categories: personnel and general expenses.  While there are some non-salary adjustments that can be made, those account for 20% of the budget while personnel expenses comprise the remaining 80%.  Therefore, a reduction of personnel expenses is unfortunately the only meaningful way to close the budget gap. The Superintendent and School Committee have shared that careful consideration is being given to make the least impactful reductions, with some reductions hopefully coming through retirements and attrition.  

Class sizes may be evaluated at any time to ensure the most effective use of personnel and resources, while providing students with equitable educational opportunities.  The district has experienced an approximately 12% decrease in enrollment over the last 10 years but has not adjusted staffing during that time, offering an opportunity to minimize the impact of staff reductions with the realignment of staffing to enrollment at all grade levels.  The School Committee’s  policy IIB – Classroom Staffing is a long-standing policy that provides desired ranges for all grades.  While average class sizes have been generally maintained closer to the lower end of the policy’s ranges in recent years, the administration has set a goal for the 2024-25 school year to keep class sizes toward the middle of the policy’s ranges while maintaining ranges closer to the lower end for our youngest learners.  

There has been a lot of public discourse that administrative positions should be the first cut.  Of the district’s 944 educational staff, only 43 (or 4.6%) are administrators,  including the principals and assistant principals across our 10 schools.  A successful school district can’t run solely on student-facing educators.  APS has been lacking in curriculum consistency across the district and the periodic review, refresh, and documentation of the curriculum at all levels.  APS has embraced SEL as an important part of the curriculum for a number of years but it has not been consistent with the inclusion in the curriculum across the district. To address these concerns as expressed by parents/families and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Dr. Parvey recommended, and the SC approved the addition of 3 administrative positions since her arrival in July 2021: Executive Director of Elementary Instruction, Executive Director of Secondary Instruction, and SEL Coordinator.  I do not support the elimination of these positions.  

Lauren Rossi Diffenbach

No response submitted.

Jayashree Mohandas

Every household knows what it’s like to live within a budget and plan thoughtfully for big expenses or unanticipated costs. The same is true for public school districts — we can’t spend more money than we have.  Like any district, personnel and operating expenses are always the larger buckets. In APS, compensation for all APS staff is $79.7M. Administrators (43 FTE) make up 7.3% of the compensation portion and all other employees 92.7%. Unfortunately, reducing the number of staff is the only significant way to help bridge the $2.7M gap. Between 2016 and 2021, APS saw a decline in overall student enrollment by about 10% while teacher retention has been similar to the state rate. The focus of the administration is to stay at the midpoint of the class policy size for all grades.

As a parent of two children in APS, I am acutely aware of the lack of curriculum consistency across the district. These issues have been brought up as concerns and in order to address them and to continue to support professional learning and structure, new administrative positions were created by restructuring of existing staff. I am not in favor of eliminating these positions as they support classroom instruction. I understand the nuances of decisions as a professional in the STEM field and someone who manages a budget of her own and that sometimes you have to make hard decisions for the long term financial health of the organization. 

Shauna Murray

As a parent and an educator, I am struggling with the proposal to cut 34+ FTEs from the ground level teaching ranks.  While it has been noted that our enrollment has declined 12% over the past few years, it should also be noted that the needs of students have increased over that time period.  Andover prides itself on its SEL initiatives and focusing on equity throughout the district.  However, social emotional learning and equity is best addressed with smaller class sizes.  So how do we justify increasing class sizes with those two goals in mind?  Additionally, the average class size numbers at the high school level are not necessarily misleading, but they do not paint the entire picture.  While average class sizes in core subjects might look decent, it fails to account for the intricacies of high school scheduling.  One student might be in a freshman English class of 16, but what about the student who is in the class of 27?  That’s a reality for many high school programs, and as someone who is currently teaching classes of 28 and 30 juniors (in a different district), I can tell you that achieving equity and managing the social emotional learning of my students, in addition to teaching them how to read critically and write for career and college readiness, is quite a challenge.  

If cuts need to be made, I would ask that the School Committee look first at the positions instituted at the administrative level.  Andover seems to have an abundance of non-front-facing positions.  How have we evaluated the effectiveness of these positions?  What are the metrics being used to determine if such positions are actively affecting student performance and success?  How do these roles function within the school district?  I recognize that eliminating some of these positions will not make up the full budget deficit, but I do think we should start there before we cut teachers and IAs who interact with students on a daily basis.  

Christopher Shepley

My campaign is driven by doing what’s best for our students. Cutting student-facing positions is the worst thing we could do for the students of APS and I have been very public with my support of protecting these positions from any budget cuts. Educators are critical in providing much needed support, guidance, and resources to students. I would urge the School Committee to look at the massive increase in new Administrative positions, instructional coaches, and unnecessary expenditures (such as the massive lawyer fees). It’s time for the School Committee to end their political theater and get back to advocating for our students.

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