2011 Review: The year in schools

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Over 200 teachers appeared at a School Committee meeting in June to protest a contract offer.

While there were countless successes in the classroom, on stage and on the playing fields in 2011, it was also a year of tremendous fiscal challenges for the Canton Public Schools, lowlighted by a series of painful budget cuts and fee hikes that took effect in September.

Faced with a $1.5 million budget deficit and determined not to tap further into the town’s cash reserves, School Committee members spent several meetings in the early part of the year agonizing over what programs to cut and by how much. They considered dozens of options — including the elimination of sports teams, the PACE program for talented and gifted students, and even department heads at the middle and high schools.

In the end, they were able to save all of these items and still balance the budget, but not before cutting the equivalent of six full-time teaching positions and raising user fees for sports, parking, and bus transportation. They also added a new surcharge for hockey players and swimmers; implemented a bus fee for elementary students and an extracurricular fee for middle and high school students; and agreed to start charging the Recreation Department for use of school gyms.

Meanwhile, the school system’s financial woes resurfaced as an issue during teacher contract negotiations, which turned into a bitter stalemate by late spring, with talks even breaking off at one point in the process. The dispute later spilled over into the public arena when an estimated 200 teachers turned out at a School Committee meeting to protest the committee’s contract offer, which included a dramatic overhaul of the “steps and lanes” formula that determines teacher raises.

Eventually the two sides returned to the bargaining table, and after a series of summer meetings, they came to terms on a one-year agreement with a 0 percent raise that closely mirrored the deals struck by the town’s other major unions. The steps and lanes were not altered, although both sides agreed to form an advisory committee to review the formula as they seek to hammer out a long-term deal in the months ahead.

School leaders also had another busy year with personnel searches as the district welcomed three new principals: Canton native Dr. Bill Conard at the Galvin Middle School, Kim Sefrino at the Kennedy School, and former K-12 wellness coordinator Peter Boucher at the Hansen School.

Conard, whose father was a longtime guidance counselor at the Galvin, was selected to replace Tom LaLiberte, who retired at the end of June after 40 years in education, including the past ten in Canton. Sefrino, who had spent most of her career in her native Fall River, took over for Jan Chamberlain, who returned to her regular position as a teacher and assistant principal after serving as interim principal for a year. Boucher was then tabbed as the interim replacement for John Maxwell, who accepted an administrator position in another district.

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