Melissa Mello complained to the Budget Commission Thursday that her son, Alec, 15, has been sitting in geometry class at with a substitute teacher not trained in geometry since school began.
"He has advised me that he is learning history in geometry class," Mello said. If her son has to have a substitute teacher, that person should at least be someone who can teach him what he needs to know, she said.
Her complaint was delivered to the Budget Commission because, she said, the School Committee had directed her to the commissioners as the ones making financial decisions for the town. Commission Chairman Bill Sequino told Mello that though the Commission does sign off on financial decisions, hiring teachers is still the school department's responsibility. The Commission simply reviews those decisions for approval, he explained.
Even though she wound up speaking to officials who aren't directly responsible for hiring teachers, Sequino said, "It's good that you publicized the point."
Ralph Malafronte, interim finance director for the , said the district has had a difficult time recruiting math and science teachers for the schools this year. "We're trying the best we can, but, it's a matter of supply and demand," Malafronte said. He said the department is seeking a long-term substitute who will be certified in geometry.
Mello was persistent, noting that her son needed the geometry class to get his diploma, and he and his class have spent days in school without getting started on geometry lessons. "What are they going to do to make up that time?" she asked.
Commission member Leo Fontaine asked if she'd seen this situation before. "No, I'm disgusted, to be honest with you," Mello said. "What is he sitting in this class for if he's not learning what he's supposed to be learning?" She said that if her son needs summer school ($150) or to take an e-learning class ($250) to make up the instruction time, it shouldn't come out of her pocket or the pockets of the parents of the other 25 kids in her son's class.
"His class is not the only one," Mello added.
Malafronte said the situation is actually common among districts, when, for instance, a sudden illness prevents a teacher from starting work at the start of school. Substitute teachers have to be called in temporarily, and science and math teachers are difficult to recruit state-wide. He said he's aware of two science teacher positions and a math teacher position that are unfilled at the moment.
Also, Mello said, the school department didn't inform her of the situation. "This is something I had to learn from my son," she said, not through a letter or a call to let her know what was happening and what the school department would do to make up for the lost time. "That's where I'm disappointed," she said.
Sequino asked David Eaton, advisor to the Budget Commission, to send a letter asking the School Committee in for another talk to discuss how the two bodies should be working together. The Commission and School Committee met recently to discuss the Budget Commission's role in city goverment and the progress on straightening out city finances. Sequino said sending Mello to the Budget Commission wasn't necessary.
"We are here, and we can be picked on, but we shouldn't inconvenience the parents." Sequino said.
After speaking to the Commission, Mello said that though she appreciates that the Budget Commission simply reviews school hiring, she feels that didn't happen quickly enough this summer, causing a backlog in teacher hiring.
The Budget Commission's involvement with hiring teachers was prompted by the rapid appointment of the Commission following the defeat of the supplemental tax bill. It took a few meetings with Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan and Woonsocket Teachers Union President Jeff Partington for the Commission to determine how many teachers who received layoff notices could be called back this year.