Zoe Porter choked back tears as she addressed town officials last week, saying that plans to cut her and nearly 50 other instructional assistants from the school budget would also affect the autistic child she works with every day.
“It took months, but the student I work closest with finally learned my name (and) it was the proudest I have ever felt,” she said. “He now greets me with, ‘Hi Miss P’ and actually seems excited to see me. That is how long it takes for them to form relationships.”
Porter said that if she loses her job, as proposed, and is no longer at Wood Hill Middle School come next year, that student will have to learn to form a new relationship with a new instructional assistant, which could actually be a setback for the boy and many others like him.
“It would be just one more thing that would hold them back from all of the potential we know they have,” she said.
Earlier this year, the School Department was ordered by Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski and the Board of Selectmen to cut its budget request by about $1.2 million. Last Wednesday night, Superintendent Marinel McGrath and the committee unveiled how they planned on making those cuts, and it wasn’t pretty.
Of the $1.2 million in reductions, $900,000 would come by laying off approximately 42 instructional assistants — employees who work at every school doing nearly every task asked of them, McGrath said.
“I don’t know if everyone appreciates the role they play,” McGrath said. “It’s a significant reduction.”
McGrath said IAs, as they are called, help out on the playground monitoring students during recess; they bolster the work of students struggling with math, science, English and just about any other subject; they help kids read, they work one-on-one with autistic students, they watch over the cafeteria during lunch, and they support students who have Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs.