HOLDEN, Mass. — Fourteen elementary school teaching positions were restored in the Wachusett Regional School District Thursday night when the School Committee voted overwhelmingly to support a new plan to address the district's $1.5 million deficit.
Hundreds of residents and teachers filled the media center at Wachusett Regional High School to speak out against the sweeping cuts announced Monday night, which would have reduced 15 teachers from elementary schools district-wide, including eight from Holden. The cuts would have increased class size to as many as 27 pupils.
After the large outcry from the community, Pandiscio brought forward a new proposal that cuts only one teacher, from Glenwood Elementary.
"It's still clearly not a budget that I'm happy with, but it's a stronger budget than the one I proposed on Monday evening," said District Superintendent Thomas Pandiscio, who said reductions in allotted funds for a forensic audit from potentially $300,000 dollars to $50,000 dollars, voted on Monday night, along with a decrease in salary for a business manager position, "reduced the need for the teacher cuts substantially."
Other alternative areas identified for reduction included a sixth-grade art position at Mountview Middle School, a music teacher at Central Tree Middle School and a district-wide strings teacher.
The School Committee supported the new proposal 14-1 with two abstentions, and tasked the administration with applying a surplus of $62,383 in the proposal to further restore teaching personnel.
Holden Selectman Bob Lavigne said he was excited to see the 200-plus residents turn out for the meeting.
"This was democracy in action," he said, "They came out. The School Committee, bless them, listened. They made some tough choices, and we got our teachers restored, which was the ultimate goal."
Holden Selectman Anthony Renzoni said the residents "sent their message out loud and clear to the representation on the School Committee that cutting elementary teachers is not acceptable in this budget. The teacher is where the rubber meets the road; they're the most essential cog in this entire operation."
However, Renzoni said, "The fact of the matter is, in three days since Monday's meeting, the administration has replaced all but a few of the low-impact positions that they initially removed. That's troubling. It's only further proof that they have no idea where the $80 million dollars are going each year."
Renzoni said he was glad to see they were moving forward with an audit, but that the next step is "a full, independent investigation to find out if any laws have been broken. That's absolutely necessary."