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Smithfield lays off 25% of teaching staff

March 8, 2011

Providence teachers are not the only ones living with uncertainty these days. Smithfield School officials have sent layoff notices to one out of every four teachers in their district as they look to close a deficit that may reach $2.2 million for the fiscal year beginning in July.

Superintendent Robert O’Brien cautions that the layoffs are only a preventive measure to make sure the district has flexibility while complying with the state law requiring teachers to be notified of potential layoffs by March 1st.

Like all districts, Smithfield is still waiting to find out exactly how much funding it will receive from both from state and local sources. However, school officials believe that even in the best case scenario, they will have to cut at least $1 million from the budget.

A significant part of the Smithfield deficit stems from an increase in Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance payments. O’Brien says that change will cost the district well over $550,000 in the coming fiscal year. Add to that the high cost of heating oil, gasoline for bus transportation and an increase in payments to the state pension fund, and you have a very serious budget season ahead, O’Brien says.

Teachers in Smithfield already pay an 18 percent health care co-pay and administrators contribute 19 percent. O’Brien says the teacher contract is currently being re-negotiated and everything is on the table including class sizes, which are currently capped at 28 students in the high school and 25 students in the elementary school.

At this point school leaders are hoping to preserve existing programs like sports and the arts. O’Brien has scrapped a plan to increase the number of Advanced Placement courses at Smithfield High School from one to four.

“It’s a difficult balancing act between what best fits the needs of students and what the community can afford,” O’Brien says.

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