WESTFORD -- Raising student activity fees. Laying off teachers. Scrapping plans to change high school start times.

These are among the cuts the administrators at Westford Public Schools described to the School Committee Thursday night as the district tries to shrink proposed spending for next fiscal year by $1.2 million.

"This is the most concerning budget year that I've had in my years of being superintendent," said Superintendent of Schools Bill Olsen.

The meeting comes after Town Manager Jodi Ross proposed a budget that was $1.2 million less than what Olsen requested.

The School Committee discussed, but did not vote on the cuts Thursday. The committee plans to revisit the proposal and vote on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Millennium Building.

The proposed reductions would cut 21 full-time and one part-time positions in the district.

Among the cuts are six general education teacher assistants for first and second grade and one teacher at Westford Academy. Additionally, the proposal calls for cutting six reading interventionists, one for each grade from kindergarten to fifth.

Administrators said two eighth grade teacher positions at Stony Brook Middle School would be cut to reflect lower enrollment.

The cuts also extend to two teachers for the school's "pre-first" program, which would be eliminated. This program is designed for students who may be intellectually ready for first grade, but need additional time to mature, according to administrators.


The school would still provide support for these students, Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery said.

School Committee member Megan Eckroth said only one other community has this program and there is "ample evidence" students can succeed in its absence.

The proposal also calls for the "restructuring" of employees providing digital learning support in the district. Digital learning specialists, who work with students, would be cut, removing 4 1/2 positions from the budget.

In place of these positions the district would hire an additional curriculum coordinator and a technician. Curriculum coordinators would visit classrooms to work with students, but not at the same frequency.

"It is not the same service we have with the digital learning specialist," Clery said. "This is up here simply because we have to come up with $1.2 million."

Together, cuts to staffing would save the district $610,000.

Parent Lynn Raney Copp praised the district's educational success and high test scores, but warned against cutting direct student services, which she believes are responsible for these positive outcomes.

"Westford is as good as it is because you've supported those teachers," said Raney Copp, who is a teacher in a different district.

The budget originally proposed by Olsen suggested adding teachers and buses in anticipation of an influx of new students in coming years. Due to new housing construction in the town, Olsen expects up to 40 new students next school year and more than 300 in the next few years.

"This is a sought-after town," School Committee member Alicia Mallon said. "When they get here, we have to educate them."

The reductions discussed Thursday removed some of the additions proposed in the original budget. This includes two buses, three general education teachers and a special education teacher for a district program serving students with autism.

These changes slice $360,304 from the budget. However, if the district cannot meet the needs of increased enrollment, Olson said this issue may need to be revisited at fall Town Meeting.

Administrators proposed increasing an activity fee from $60 to $100 per year. The fee, which was increased from $50 last year, is paid by students at Westford Academy who want to participate in extracurricular activities.

According to administrators, this change would free up $40,000 in the budget.

If the fee is not increased, Olsen said they would consider cutting extracurricular activities instead.

In light of budget troubles, the School Committee plans to postpone pushing back the start time for high school students by a half hour. If start times change, it would cost the district $148,000. 

Reducing the use of substitute teachers at Westford Academy would save an additional $15,000, according to administrators.

"Students instead would either report to the library or report to DLT (Directed Learning Time) and complete the teacher's work on Google Classroom," Clery said.

Other cuts include bringing more professional development for teachers in-house, cutting an entrepreneurship competition through Babson College, some changes to curriculum development and eliminating the Living Lab.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins.