By Tony Marquis
Dozens of current and former Woodstock Union High School students crowded the school’s auditorium Wednesday night to urge the WUHS-MS School Board not to cut their favorite teachers out of the 2013-14 budget.
In the end, the school board unanimously approved an $11.3 million budget, which includes the reduction of 11 teaching and two staff positions. School board members said they were open to a teachers union proposal of negotiating early retirement for other teachers to save some of the reduced positions.
Many gave impassioned pleas concerning one of those teachers, Erin Danner, the 2012 WUHS Teacher of the Year and a 2010 state honoree for outstanding math teaching.
Indi Bjornsson, a WUHS student from Pomfret, attributed her success in math to Danner, who helped Bjornsson during her off hours and lunch.
“Every spare time she had, she was meeting with students, I’m just saying that goes a long way. Because not all teachers make such great effort to create time for their students to help them learn and help them understand,” Bjornsson said.
Ainsley Wildling, a senior, also asked the school board to reconsider who they were cutting.
“We’re just saying that the cuts that are being made aren’t OK with us,” said Ainsley Wildling, a senior. “The teachers that give us everything are the ones that we need to keep. If they’re not necessarily the ones that have been here the longest, that’s a problem, because those are the ones that are going to make our education better.”
On Tuesday, teachers union representative Keri Bristow said she’s talked to more than five teachers have told her they’ve be open to early retirement if it would save the reduced positions. She made a proposal to the board by email Tuesday evening.
The school board said it was open to negotiating early retirement deals.
The budget includes a tax increase of $0.132 per every $100 of assessed home value — about a $264 increase in the tax bill for the owner of a house assessed at $200,000.
The decisions were made due to declining enrollment, according to administrative officials. Since the 2003-04 school year, combined enrollment has fallen from 634 students to 531 in 2012-13.
In art/music and math departments, where the equivalent of one full-time teacher was cut by the budget, the average class sizes were around 10-13 students at the high school and middle school.
In an earlier interview, Superintendent Alice Worth said the average class size in those departments will increase to about 16 students after the cuts.
Bob Crean, of Pomfret, parent of two students, argued for the cuts, asking for a show of hands of people who would support a larger budget — at a larger tax rate — which saved positions.
“I think it’s more trying to change the budget, so that we can reevaluate who is being cut,” said student Annie Arthur to Crean.
By Tony Marquis