At last night’s Board of Education meeting (Thursday, May 12), Wilton High School sophomore Maya Fazio addressed the board members and school administrators, appealing to them to refrain from letting teachers go because of recent budget cuts.

She delivered the following remarks during the public comment section at the beginning of the meeting.

“Good evening and thank you for allowing me to speak tonight. My name is Maya Fazio and I’m sophomore at the high school. Along with other students, the news regarding the recent budgets cuts spread around the school quickly, specifically concerning teachers that will not be returning next year. My understanding of the process is that the last ones hired are the first ones fired. I feel as if the this policy should be reevaluated.

Aside from the student body, the teachers make up an essential part of the school. In my opinion, the district should look deeply to find things that are directly less intrusive to students, letting go of teachers should be the last resort.

Wilton High School is rated the seventh best high school in the state of Connecticut by the US News and World Report and this is due to the phenomenal teachers and resources that our students have access to. But, just like in every school, there are some teachers that have made more of an impression on students compared to others. In my opinion, this should be taken into account when letting go of teachers, if need be. I know that for teachers it can be very hard to connect with students and as a high schooler, it is difficult to find a teacher that you can relate to and find a class that you look forward to going to every day.

One of those teachers who had an indisputable impact on me was Mrs. Opidee from the English department. Writing is one of my favorite subjects, but in the past, I could never find a teacher that would alter my dislike for reading. This year she altered my previous opinion and as a result it has opened up a new world for me and greatly improved and enhanced my writing. However, aside from academics, she has proved to be a dedicated teacher in that she is always there for her students even when it is not regarding her class. She offers to help me edit and revise previous writing pieces and also challenges me as a student to investigate all aspects of a topic. Personally I feel as if she pushes me to be a better student, to look deeper into my writing abilities to get the best possible outcome that I am capable of. She is a great asset the Wilton High School English Department.

I am sad to hear that another school district will have this high-level learning opportunity, while we lose a very valuable teacher and person in the community. This situation I feel should be prevented from happening in the future by either changing the policy “last one hired, first one fired” or by finding alternative ways to make cuts. Thank you for your time.”

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As is the norm, the Board members did not respond directly to Fazio. However, later during the meeting the board did refer to the question Fazio raised when the subject of the FY ’17 education budget and budget cuts were discussed. BOE chair Bruce Likly was reviewing how the board would proceed with following the Board of Finance‘s directive to cut $400,000 from the original proposed budget in order to bring it into line with the amount the Town approved at the Annual Town Meeting and vote.

Board member Laura Schwemm noted that staff reductions at the high school were already part of the original budget to begin with, “…so that has nothing to do with the budget cuts.”

Likly said, “That’s correct.”

He then addressed Fazio’s remarks. “I don’t know the specifics of which Maya spoke. It would be nice to understand it at some point. But we do have a practice at the end of each year where we have layoffs every year for non-tenured employees. That gives us the ability to load-shift and load-balance our requirements across schools. I don’t know whether this has something to do with that or not. A lot of times the people that are told they’re not being renewed actually do get brought back.”

Wilton’s superintendent of schools Dr. Kevin Smith filled in a little more detail.

“There are two pieces here that the Board should be aware of. The first is, it’s important to know that we take a very close look at personnel. The high school schedules to the section and its based on student enrollment. As enrollment in a particular subject area or course increases, staff is added. As it decreases, staff is reduced. In the case Maya referred to, it was actually a sectioning issue. We just didn’t have the need, so it wasn’t a result of the budget,” he said.

However, he did validate what she had to say regarding the policy of “last one hired, first one fired,” pointing at the teachers’ union.

“She’s absolutely right, and it’s one of the significant drawbacks of our collective bargaining agreement. The newest employees are often the first to be eliminated, and that’s very unfortunate because we work very hard to bring in the best and brightest that we can.”

Likly elaborated on the contract issue, noting that the board would soon be starting discussion with the teacher’s union for the next contract negotiations, and suggested that perhaps it’s an area up for negotiation.

“The way the teachers’ contract is written, there’s a calculation that’s done to manage ‘reductions in force’ or RIF. We have to follow that calculation,” he said, underscoring that, “last hired, first fired” is set by the union in its contract rather than being official board policy.

“Dr. Smith and I will be talking with the WEA (Wilton Education Association) next week and I think it’s something worthy to have a conversation about, because I know our teachers love having the best and brightest here as well,” Likly added.