Connect with us


‘Difficult choices’: What to know as more than 40 Norwich school staff lose their jobs



The Norwich Board of Education meeting Tuesday was filled with members of the public wearing yellow “I support music” stickers and people wanting to express concerns about proposed budget cuts.

During the meeting, the Norwich Board of Education voted not to renew the contracts of 44 employees – a combination of certified teachers and administrators – at the end of the year. This is the first round of what is expected to be other budget cuts before the 2024-2025 school year.

“With the budget the way it is, we had to make some difficult choices,” Acting Superintendent Susan Lessard said.

Most of these employees, whose contracts weren’t renewed, had positions funded by the expiring ESSER III grant. The federal grant was distributed to local school districts across the country as a response to the pandemic, and which ends this year. ESSER-funded positions are $4.88 million of the $5 million total cut.

In addition to eliminating positions paid for by COVID-relief money, there is a $7 million gap between the district 2024-2025 budget proposal and the money the city is willing to give the district, Lessard said.

Board Chair Mark Kulos said the federal money should have lasted longer; perhaps five to 10 years.

“They figured in three years, the kids should be able to recover, and they just haven’t,” he said.

What jobs will be cut in the Norwich public schools?

The contract non-renewals are spread throughout the district, including the central office, Lessard said.

“There has not been one department that has been affected more than the other,” she said.

Positions cut range from music teachers and reading and math specialists to assistant principals and special education supervisors, a presentation given by Lessard at the meeting states.

The greatest drop in positions by number is among reading and math specialists throughout the district, from 35 to 11. The change is still equitable because of a restructuring of how that program works, with these personnel working directly with building administrators, Lessard said.

Classroom teachers are not among the cut positions, Lessard said.

Staff affected by this decision were notified twice about their contracts ahead of the Tuesday meeting, and were scheduled be notified of the Board’s decision on Wednesday, Lessard said.

There are currently 27 vacancies in Norwich. The people who will be let go can apply for them if they are certified for the given role, Lessard said.

Tenured teachers, who are not currently classroom teachers and who lost their positions will stay, but will be assigned new jobs, Lessard said.

The reductions take district employment back to pre-COVID levels. The loss of ESSER funds impacts districts across the state, Norwich Teacher’s League President Bill Priest said.

“I hope some people at the state level step up and help out,” he said.

Will the music program at Norwich Free Academy and other Norwich schools be cut?

A group of Norwich Free Academy students were the source of the music support stickers. They were all the students of Kristen Motola of NFA. Many of the students went to NPS schools when younger. They all spoke about how music programs enriched their lives in and out of school.

“Music has been an essential part of my character and my identity,” NFA Senior Samantha Schies said.

Word that the school district planned to entirely cut music spread through social media ahead of the meeting. While there were three music positions eliminated, the music department will not be cut. Even if the music program were cut, it would not be enough to resolve the budgetary shortfall, Kulos said.

Kulos and others still appreciated the support for music programs, as music had been eliminated from the district in the past, he said.

How will the rest of budget cuts be determined

The Norwich Board of Education approved a $100 million budget, while the city has only proposed a $93 million education budget for the 2025 fiscal year. The board will go through the ad-hoc committee process with the city this month and talk about bridging the gap, but there’s still a big difference between the two figures, Lessard said.

“We feel every position is important for Norwich Public Schools, but we have to work with the budget the city gives us,” she said.  

NPS is considering other areas to save money, including workman’s compensation and transportation, Lessard said.

Other funding from the state is to be determined, but the district should know by around May 8, which is the end of the state’s legislative session.

How can residents voice their concerns about the budget

Residents should voice their concerns about funding education to the Norwich City Council during the hearing on May 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Norwich City Hall, Kulos said.

“They’re the ones who control our purse string,” he said.

Continue Reading