The Lawrence Board of Education voted Thursday to eliminate 14 full- and part-time special education and speech therapy positions assigned to private schools, angering about 100 Lawrence teachers who protested the decision at a morning board meeting.
"It is deeply disturbing how flippantly the Lawrence Board of Education has made this hurtful and vindictive decision without giving any consideration to the people who have been harmed by it," Lori Skonberg, president of the Lawrence Teachers' Association, which represents union members, said at the special meeting held at the Lawrence Middle School.
The positions eliminated were public school employees working in local private schools. The board said it plans to hire back the equivalent number of positions as private contractors on a per-diem basis.
"This is something that is the right thing to do," said board member Nahum Marcus, who said he has a child in need of special education at a local private school and identified himself as a prime mover for the change. "It's not any budget issue."
Marcus said the decision, years in the making, stemmed from differing vacation schedules between public and private schools.
Many Orthodox Jewish residents in Lawrence send their children to private yeshivas, which follow the Jewish holiday calendar. But by contract, the public school teachers assigned to the private schools still followed the public school vacation calendar.
Lawrence district officials said the decision could result in 25 more days of instruction for special education in the affected private schools. The decision, which Deputy Superintendent Gary Schall said would save the district nearly $500,000 in reduced salary and benefits, came as the board announced a $700,000 deficit at the same meeting.
Blasia Baum, president of the Lawrence Council PTA, said she was disappointed that the board did not communicate more with the community and called the meeting for 8:15 a.m. yesterday, when many parents were heading to work. "The public was not kept in this loop," she said.
Schall said he hopes most of the teachers will be hired back as private contractors. He said details of their contracts are still being determined and it's too early to say how much of a salary reduction they could be facing. If hired back, the teachers would no longer be members of the teachers' association.
Superintendent John Fitzsimons acknowledged the change meant "there has been a reduction in the special education staff who used to be part of the teachers union that was assigned to the nonpublic schools."