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Highlands Parents Urge Braintree School Officials to Consider More Teachers

The parents spoke during Monday night's Braintree School Committee meeting following a presentation on the state budget by Rep. Mark Cusack.

The anticipation of final state budget numbers served as a backdrop on Monday night as some two dozen parents filed into to refocus the Braintree School Committee on high class sizes at .

Two additional teachers, and a creative plan to fit two more classrooms into an already-packed school, would produce a better learning environment for third and fourth grade students at Highlands, said Sheelagh Corcoran, one of the school's advocates.

Corcoran told committee members than more than 200 Highlands parents have signed a petition and that advocates are working with the principal, superintendent and mayor on solutions, such as using the library and computer lab as classroms.

"We will be able to make it work," Corcoran said. "It won't be perfect, but it will be an answer to these class sizes."

Projected fall 2012 enrollment for three classrooms each in third and fourth grade at Highlands is between 24 and 26 students, the highest projection of any school except fifth grade at both and

But additional funding for the two teachers could prove hard to come by. In April,  for fiscal year 2013 that remains before the  and includes a $2.4 million increase. It is the largest increase in a decade, but does not include funding for many district priorities.

And even if more money is made available through the state budgeting process, Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg has suggested that three positions be filled, including a housemaster, but not including the Highlands educators that the parents have requested.

"We're on your side," Mayor Joseph Sullivan said on Monday night. "You only go through grades three and four once."

Sullivan also said that it is too early in the budget process to be able to fully vet the idea, and suggested the parents return to the committee after July 1, when state lawmakers are supposed to finish their budget.

"There are other needs that we need to digest and look at," the mayor said.

Rep. Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, provided a status update earlier in the meeting on the state budget, saying that the Massachusetts economy is stronger than the nation as a whole, a picture reflected in proposed increases in education local aid of $146 million to $181 million, with the Senate's plan offering the highest number.

Under Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal and the House's, Braintree would receive $13.31 million in Chapter 70 education money in fiscal year 2013, up from $12.15 million this year. The Senate would send the town $13.55 million. 

, submitted by Sullivan to the council earlier this spring, is based on the governor's budget proposal. Cusack said he believes the governor's and House's numbers will hold in the end, and that he hopes lawmakers adopt the Senate's more generous proposal. 

Committee Chair Shannon Hume told the Highlands parents to keep in mind that both budget numbers and enrollment fluctuate prior to September, and that the committee is focused on space needs.

"We agree with everything you are saying," Hume said, adding later that Flaherty parents – some of whose students have been using the gymnasium's stage for a classroom – have also advocated through the school administration.

Elizabeth Swinning, an integrated information teacher at Highlands, said she supports adding the teachers, but cautioned the committee against supporting the takeover of more library and computer lab space.

"I think there is an assumption that this is working out OK, and it's really not," Swinning said. "This is a huge detriment to our schools and our town that one by one our school libraries are being taken away."

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