Orange lets go 57 school workers: Districts hope to rehire most later

  • Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 6/28/2020 12:27:59 PM
Modified: 6/29/2020 5:51:54 AM

ORANGE — Orange schools have called back about a half-dozen of the 57 workers removed from payroll due to financial strains, with hopes of eventually returning most of them to their jobs.

Michele Tontodonato, director of finance and operations for Orange Elementary Schools and the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, said Mahar let go 16 employees through contract non-renewal or a reduction in force, or RIF, and the elementary schools lost 41 through those means. Affected staff members were notified by June 15, as required by state law.

Tontodonato said there is the potential to rehire more workers once budget figures are finalized. A handful — comprised of cafeteria workers and support staff members — have been called back to the elementary schools.

Tontodonato has previously said fiscal year 2021 revenue is down about $800,000. The state government has disseminated less financial support in the form of special education funding and transportation and charter school reimbursement, she said.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a key factor. Tontodonato said the state has lost a lot of money in taxes, such as for lodging facility rooms and prepared meals, due to the government’s safety measures.

“In a perfect world, you’d like to call them all back. But chances are, in this budget scenario, we won’t be able to do that,” she said. “It’s hard. It’s hard for everybody.”

English teacher Ian Bashaw, Mahar’s union president, said he has not seen a reduction in force this extreme in his 10 years working in the district.

“You’re seeing this all over the state,” he said.

Bashaw said the 16 affected employees at Mahar were 12 teachers, three paraprofessionals and one secretary. He mentioned everyone let go was informed by mail.

“The union side is working pretty closely with the school committee and administration to get as many (employees) back as possible,” he said.

At least half of the affected staff members will likely be called back if residents on Aug. 3 approve a debt override and ratify the $4.6 million budget adopted at the Annual Town Meeting earlier this month, Bashaw said. Polls are scheduled to be open from noon to 7 p.m. at Mahar, at 507 South Main St.

Classes at Mahar have not been in session since Gov. Charlie Baker in mid-March ordered schools to close to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. Still, Bashaw said he has been in touch with teachers and other employees and said morale is “pretty low” right now. He said the number of lost workers is even more startling when you consider Mahar has only roughly 65 staff members.

“It’s mind-boggling,” he said simply.

Similarly, Carla Chilton, union president for the Orange elementary schools, said all her colleagues are worried about one another and are concerned about what reopening is going to look like. The sixth-grade teacher said she is cautiously optimistic and hopeful the union will “get a good portion of (the affected workers) back.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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