School Committee meetings reopen to public

Nov 1, 2021

The public will be invited to attend School Committee meetings in person again beginning Nov. 15, committee members agreed..

“It’s been a long time coming,’’ committee member John Nunes said at a Nov. 1 meeting. The committee began meeting virtually when Covid shut down in-person gatherings in spring 2020.

Having people view the meeting in person allows them to see the “body language’’ of committee members and can be “demystifying,’’ committee member Kathleen Amaral said.

Masks are required to be worn in schools at least through January, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has announced. 

Anyone not wearing a mask to a meeting will be asked to leave, committee members said.

If attendees balk at wearing masks, committee member Chris Oliver said, “we shut it down again.’’

In other issues, the committee heard a proposal to raise the wages of substitute teachers in an effort to reduce the shortage.

Right now, an average of 13 substitute teaching positions go unfilled each day, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operation James Kiely said. 

There are 33 substitute teachers available in the district, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonny Gifford said. “We usually have 100,’’ she said. 

The numbers have dropped in part, she said, because some people are hesitant to come into school buildings. 

This requires administrators to “juggle and shift’’ personnel to cover classes, he said.

The shortage is “a real problem,’’ Gifford said.

The lack of substitutes places “an additional burden’’ on an “already exhausted’’ staff and administration, Oliver said.

“As a parent and as a School Committee member, it’s concerning,’’ he said. 

Kiely suggested raising the pay for a certified substitute teacher to $130 a day starting in January. The current rate is $120 a day.

This rate is “just above average’’ among local schools, which range in pay from $85 to $145 a day, he said.

Gifford suggested using school choice funds to hire additional teaching assistants to help fill staffing holes.

The committee asked to revisit the issue at the Nov. 15 meeting and requested that Gifford provide additional financial information.