June 18, 2008

Lynn Schools Fall Beneath Budget Ax

By Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald

Jun. 18--The first of two Lynn public elementary schools scheduled to close for good shut its doors yesterday, part of a sweeping round of budget cuts that calls for the layoff of as many as 160 teachers.

Yesterday was the last day of class for the Washington Community School's 200 pupils, and Friday will mark the final day for the William R. Fallon Elementary School's 132 students. The schools won't reopen in the fall, and the students will be reassigned to other schools.

"It's a very sad day for the city of Lynn, an extremely sad day for the teachers who are going to be losing their jobs, and I think it's devastating for the children," said Alice Gunning, president of the Lynn Teachers Union. "They're going to be getting short-changed next year because of larger class sizes."

As of yesterday, she said, the layoffs included 90 certified teachers, 70 teachers who had been working toward certification, 20 teacher aides and one occupational therapist out of the 1,600 teachers, paraprofessionals and therapists the union represents.

Gunning accused city officials of relying on state aid to fund the district's schools. But Mayor Edward J. Clancy Jr. said the city budgeted an additional $503,000 for the fiscal year beginning July 1. He blamed the school closings and layoffs on a $4 million increase in the cost of health insurance for city employees and a citywide enrollment that has declined from 15,201 students in fiscal year 2003 to 13,995 in fiscal 2008.

"The teachers do a great job, but to continue the same level of services would have required an additional $6 million. We don't have it," Clancy said.

The cuts will cause some "blips" in class size over the next school year, he said. But he is hoping to hold class sizes to no more than 25 in grades 1 and 2, and no more than 30 in other grades.

That came as little consolation to parents including Evelyn Gomez, whose 7-year-old son Andy had grown accustomed to classes as small as 20 at the Washington Community School.

"They didn't even tell us the school was closing; I found out from another parent," Gomez said. "Then we got a letter saying he was being transferred to another school. It's not a great school, but what else can we do?"

The Department of Education will not know how many other schools will be closing until later this summer, when superintendents will be required to notify the department. Over the past school year, 13 schools closed statewide.

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