WEST NEWBURY — Approximately 20 Pentucket Regional School District teachers will receive nonrenewal notices within the next week as a result of an uncertain fiscal 2021 budget due to COVID-19.

Superintendent Justin Bartholomew made the announcement at a virtual School Committee meeting Tuesday night, saying such notices have to be sent to teachers by June 15.

Even if reopening plans remain on track, the state has already warned of major losses in revenue and the impact it could have on the fiscal 2021 budget. With that in mind, the district is preparing for reductions in Chapter 70 aid and other funding.

"Our hopes were that we could maybe push through — and we held this off as long as we could — but without question, it seems like 10% is a likely bare minimum of what we can expect, and that's if things go well," Bartholomew said of the reductions they expect to make.

He said 10% is equivalent to 18 positions, 15% is equivalent to 29 positions and 20% — which is what most districts are preparing for — is equivalent to more than 40 positions.

These numbers don't even include about five additional positions the district has opted not to fill to save money, Bartholomew said. 

Fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010 "weren't good" years but looking ahead to fiscal 2021, "it's much worse now than it was back then," he said.

Depending on what happens with the state budget, Bartholomew did not rule out the possibility of inviting these teachers back since so much is unclear. It's also possible more reductions would need to be made, he said. 

"It's a horrible thing to have to do," he said. "It's not where we want to be. We felt like keeping it at a minimum would be the best approach, so that's the route we decided."

Bartholomew does expect some resignations with at least one teacher moving out of New England anyway, but the number of nonrenewal notices is about 20, he said.

"There is no one that is going to be immune to this," Bartholomew said, adding that all school districts will consider such reductions as the state discusses its budget and other plans for the next academic year.

He said the Pentucket teachers are most likely in their first three years in the district, noting that this could be a teacher just starting out or a teacher with 20 years of experience who is relatively new to the district. 

"There's not that much that is going to be positive about this other than again, we're going to have to look at what is going to be the approach we can take that has the least impact on our children," he said.

In a statement following the meeting, Bartholomew said, "I'd like to sincerely thank each and every one of these educators for everything they have done for our students.

"This school year has not been easy, and all of these individuals have worked tirelessly over the past few months to make sure our students have remained supported and engaged in learning remotely," he added. "This crisis is unlike anything any of us have experienced previously, and it's with a heavy heart we share this news."

To watch the full meeting, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH8W_VbikgY.

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