By John Burton
FAIR HAVEN – Hours and hours of criticism, impassioned and clearly heartfelt pleas and pointed questions and skepticism during Wednesday night’s meeting failed to alter the board of education’s decision to not renew nine non-tenured teachers’ contracts.
Board members listened to a long queue of parents, young students and even a few teachers to be impacted by the board’s decision for about four hours Wednesday night, ending the public comment just short of midnight.
The speakers at the board meeting at Knollwood School voiced their distress over the board’s intention to decline to renew the teacher contracts and showed their support for teachers who were about to be out of work at the end of the school year.
Despite the pleas, the board voted to renew contracts for just 17 of the 26 non-tenured teachers, sticking with their final analysis of some staffers.
“You have a lot of kids upset over this,” parent Lisa Driscoll said.
One of those students is her severely disabled child who will be losing a much-loved teacher. Driscoll told the board that that teacher “is one of the shinning stars” of the district.
“There’s something wrong here or we wouldn’t have more than 300 people coming here tonight,’ parent John Colucci said.
“I’m very upset and I’m sure many of the other students here would agree with me,” said Shannah Dolan, who attends Knollwood, the district’s middle school, noting she is a former student of one of the teachers who will not be in the district next year.
“I feel teachers need to be given more chances.” she told the board.
Board members, by and large, patiently offered their understanding and their explanation. Board attorney Anthony Sciarrillo said the board was required required to make a final determination on non-tenured staff by April 30 under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement with teachers.
Board President Mark Mancuso and Superintendent of Schools Nelson Ribon told the audience that the decisions were based on evaluations done in accordance with state requirements, including in-classroom observation.
Despite the continuing insistence of some in the audience, officials repeatedly stressed that they were legally unable to discuss the results of the evaluations or anything about individual teachers.
Officials previously noted that some of the teacher placements were always intended to be temporary because they were filling in for those on leaves of absence.
Others were teachers who had been with the district for one, two or three years. In the case of the third-year teachers, the decision became a matter of whether to grant tenure, board members said.
These decisions were not something that the board entered into lightly, many members insisted.
“This has been hugely painful,” board member Tracy Rehder said.
But, the board’s pain was of little consequence to Christine Facer, one of the teachers affected who voiced her own pain. “I feel completely used. That’s not right,” Facer said in a voice quivering with emotion. “This isn’t just my job. This is my life. I live here. I have a child in the district.”