Hampton Academy cuts 7 teachers at closed-door meeting; union alarmed

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by Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, April 14, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON — Teachers’ union officials said they are alarmed over a School Board decision made behind closed doors on Good Friday to eliminate seven full-time teaching positions next year at Hampton Academy.

The Hampton board voted to eliminate the positions, as well as reduce the hours of three others during a non-public meeting on April 10, at the SAU office.

Andy Gushee, president of the Seacoast Education Association, said his union’s members have serious concerns about the timing of the reductions and what it means to the district.

"The fact that these staff members were notified after school on the Friday of a holiday weekend is egregious and insensitive," said Gushee. "It is a slap in the face to the teachers that have taught with such passion and professionalism. So much for Good Friday."

Kevin Fleming, the union’s grievance chairman, said members have been told the reductions are due to the board’s decision to revert back to the junior high school model at the Academy. The board adopted the middle school philosophy back in 2004.

"We don’t know where this is coming from," Fleming said. "It’s been all done under the radar without a lot of discussion with the staff or community."

"I’ve been going through the board’s minutes, and I don’t see any discussion about moving back to a junior high model," Gushee said. "I don’t see any agenda item about restructuring in the district."

SAU 21 Assistant Superintendent Maureen Ward did not return phone calls seeking comment.

According to the draft minutes of Friday’s meeting, the board went into non-public session at 9 a.m. to discuss personnel. Although union representatives say seven full-time teaching positions would be eliminated, the minutes indicate a 4-1 vote at 10:34 a.m. to eliminate five positions at the Academy.

The minutes did not indicate who cast the dissenting vote and School Board members contacted would not comment on the matter.

Those impacted are Grade 6 teacher Laura Bullard, Grade 6 teacher Susanne Frost, Grade 8 teacher Sandra Tilton, consumer science teacher Joan Greenwood and technical education teacher Carole LePauloue. Two other full-time positions that will become open due to retirements would not be filled.

The board also unanimously voted to reduce the hours of art teacher Dona Boardman, and foreign language teachers Catherine Gmelch and Julie Sgroi.

There was no information in the minutes regarding any vote to revert back to the junior high model.

"This came as a shock to everyone," said Fleming, who was told a week ago that all educator contracts would be renewed in Hampton.

Gushee said changing from a middle school model to a junior high model is a "serious undertaking with numerous consequences."

"This is a decision that should be made openly and with input from all interested stakeholders," Gushee said. "How can the community trust the actions of a School Board and superintendent when such monumental changes are made without considerable research, disclosure and dialogue?"

Hampton School Board member Rosemary Lamers would not comment on the non-public meeting, while board members Sandra Nickerson and Rusty Bridle did not return calls for comment.

All board member Norm Silberdick would say is the decision to eliminate the positions are a part of a restructuring plan at the Academy. The plan, he said, will be discussed at Tuesday's board meeting.

"This was carefully thought out and not something that happened two weeks ago because there was a new board in," Silberdick said. "The intent is to improve the performance of the school and improve the education of the children.

"That is the first, foremost reasoning behind any decisions that are made," he said.

Gushee said the union is questioning the legality of the board’s decision to eliminate the staff. Members believe the proposed restructuring may constitute a change in working conditions and, therefore, may need to be negotiated through the collective bargaining process.

"The staff at the Academy is stunned right now," Gushee said. "They want answers.

"We would expect the Hampton board to be ready to explain and review the decision to restructure Hampton Academy and all other related issues in a timely manner," the union president said.

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