Q&A With Framingham Supt. Tremblay On Schools Financial Future Due To COVID-19

Editor’s Note: SOURCE asked Framingham Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay a series of questions on Friday afternoon, on the financial stability of the district since the coronavirus pandemic. His responses, received today, May 18, are below in their entirety.

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Has the Framingham Public Schools considered layoffs/furloughs for FY20 to save money?

We have not laid off or furloughed staff during the pandemic. The school year is ongoing and educators are supporting our students, as we are still morally and legally obligated to do, even while not physically together. The district, however, has put a series of cost saving measures in place.

We “froze” all but essential COVID related hiring for direct student support and non-COVID-related expenses back in March.

By slowing spending before the last quarter of the fiscal year, an available balance has been attained to help close the FY21 budget gap. Since the hiring freeze back in March, we have only approved general education, special education, and ESL teachers who were – and continue to be – directly in front of students providing remote learning and legally required services.

By hiring these positions only and keeping other positions open, savings have occured.

A detailed narrative on this can be found in the School Committee’s meeting packet for this Wednesday: https://www.framingham.k12.ma.us/cms/lib/MA01907569/Centricity/Domain/81/2019-2020/05.20.20/Updated%20Narrative.pdf 

What employees from the schools engaged with the city and not with students during the shutdown since March 11?

Our nurses continue to support the City’s Department of Public Health with contact tracing and other support as needed. The nurses are collecting demographic and clinical information from the person and detailed data about people they were in contact with immediately prior to diagnoses. The nurses follow-up with the person throughout the quarantine or isolation period until their symptoms are fully resolved and they are released from restrictions. This is an additional role, as the District’s nurses continue to support their school communities through a variety of means, including regular communication with medically complex and high risk students, health and wellness messaging to their communities, and collaboration with support staff and teachers to assure that all students can access the support they need to be healthy during this unprecedented time.

Additionally, all FPS bilingual staff – whether secretarial staff, paraprofessionals, or educators – have been called upon to assist with communication with our non-English speaking families. 

Are there any employees who are not doing their jobs during the pandemic, besides bus drivers, and are still receiving a paycheck?

A number of our custodial staff were not working during the first month of the school closure, in part because in consultation with public health officials and guidance all buildings were sealed when this crisis began in March. However, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we have had a staggered return of the custodial workforce.

All other staff have been utilized during the pandemic.

Can you explain why the city is paying bus drivers when they are not working?

Continuing to fund vendor contracts is consistent with federal and state guidance to school districts. School transportation contracts were specifically excluded in the federal CARES Act, meaning they are not eligible for federal support.

All Durham communities in Massachusetts are following that guidance and are paying bus driver salaries.

FPS has negotiated a lower rate to exclude fuel payments and other aspects, and solely support the drivers. With that said, we of course recognize the complexities and continue to hold ongoing negotiations with Durham to find a balance between fulfilling the contract, having drivers and buses certified and ready to go this fall, and recouping funds. The District recognizes the fact that the pandemic will be over at some point in the near future, and students will need to be bussed to schools – even if schools will be differently organized and run.

If we stop paying bus drivers now, we run the risk that we will not have any bus drivers or certified buses when it is time for us to get up and running. 

If layoffs are needed for FY21, can you discuss your philosophy on how you would go about laying off staff?

Our number one priority is to preserve services and opportunities for our students as much as possible given the amount of time that our students have been out of school and away from direct instruction.

If layoffs are needed, we will look for opportunities to reorganize job responsibilities of those staff members who do not work directly with students in an effort to streamline and more efficiently manage those tasks. We will also need to look closely at class sizes and have to make some difficult decisions about where there may be cost savings with regards to teaching staff. This will mean class sizes would go up, which may not be possible for public health reasons. It may also mean some courses may not be offered next year, or would have to be offered through online (third party) classes.

Additional cost cutting measures will be taken to preserve positions, including reducing operating budgets for all departments and schools.

While fewer supplies and instructional materials may be the result, we believe preserving staff who have direct interactions with students is our highest priority.

We are also taking a hard look at our middle management infrastructure to see what streamlining can happen.

I will also be delaying the hiring of vacant positions while also making organizational changes that will shift responsibilities within a reconceptualized administrative structure.

Finally, would you be willing to take a paycut or forgo your FY21 raise in FY21 due the pandemic?

Earlier this school year I reached an agreement with the Framingham School Committee on a new contract that is set to begin on July 1, 2020. The salary and terms are set through mutual agreement. I have invited the School Committee to team up with me and discuss how to proceed.

My salary has remained at the same level since I began in April of 2017. With that said, I do fully recognize the gravity of this situation and in the meantime, can offer some savings.

As it stands today, the district will be getting the value of vacation days that I am unable to take and which I am unable to rollover. This will result in budgetary savings of $9,000. While I do understand the importance of work/life balance, it is simply impossible to utilize my vacation time at this stage as we are managing to continuously adjust the way our system of education works during this pandemic. 

editor

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