Budget Cuts Destroy Promises Made to At-Risk Youth
Last week, nine staff members at Sununu Youth Services Center (SYSC) saw their careers upended. All were moved into other career paths, some with no clear connection to their work history. One part-time employee was laid off completely. Six of the nine affected workers were teachers. This action decimates the education department as a whole.
SYSC is the state’s residential detention and school facility for youth ages 13 to 17 who have either been found to be delinquent (SYSC program) or are awaiting that determination (YDSU program). Both programs are approved by NH Dept. of Education Bureau of Special Education to serve students in all disability categories. The programs include academics, special education, electives and vocational training for the youth that are taught in four distinct educational settings within the institution. Classes are in session year round at SYSC.
“This is the third round of significant cuts to SYSC in six years,” said SEA President Diana Lacey. “These kids require intensive services to in order to turn their lives around and to be safe while on that path. Education is the bedrock that will help them find future success.”
At issue is the SYSC administration’s strategy for making $1.25 million in budget cuts.
“It defies logic that anyone would cut the teaching staff by half at an institution that educates the at-risk youth,” said Brad Asbury, a former SYSC employee and current SEA/SEIU Local 1984 manager working with the educators. “The youth are paying the price for a conflict that began between the teachers and Director Maggie Bishop two years ago. They predicted this would happen well before budget writers took aim at them.”
Evelyn Clark-Smith, the president of the SEA/SEIU Local chapter at SYSC, noted that a former chapter president, Mike Fitzpatrick, is among those affected.
“This smells rotten and we’ve seen it before: Attacks on Chapter 21 presidents by directors with their own agendas,” Clark-Smith said. “These are made without regard for the damage they will cause to the youth entrusted in our care. Mike must now go to extremes to return to the career he chose so many years ago: educating youth who are in great need. I hope everyone can see that teachers were clearly targeted here, and the youth are left to suffer the consequences.”
“We’ve talked with half of the affected employees so far,” said Sean Bolton, SEA/SEIU 1984 Grievance Representative. “Based on our initial analysis, SYSC management inappropriately applied the state’s personnel rules to every affected employee except for one part-time teacher.” SEA/SEIU 1984 will be investigating the matter.
“This situation is ridiculous and putting us in harm’s way,” said Will Flowers, one of the teachers whose position was not directly affected. “We are down to nine classroom teachers. Tell me, how’s that going to work?” Flowers said the safe teacher/student ratio is five to six students per teacher. “Any more than that in a classroom, you can’t watch them,” he said. “Just last week there was a fight between two students because there were too many students in the classroom. Without adequate staffing, our students are at risk of hurting themselves or others, as well as not having a shot at receiving effective instruction.” There are typically 60 or more residents at the facility.
“Many of the students go to vocational training,” said Flowers. “Many of them can’t read or write, so they learn a trade here.” Flowers has been teaching culinary arts at SYSC for 18 years.
“The teachers have worked tirelessly reaching out to state senators and representatives, executive councilors and the Governor to sound the alarm of what this cut will mean to the kids. There is no coincidence in the administration’s choice to slash the teaching force,” said Jay Ward, Political Director at SEA/SEIU 1984. “The quality of the educational services at the Center is well known. You don’t cut it if you want to see youth succeed.”
Multiple meetings with the administration, area lawmakers, and Gov. Maggie Hassan have failed to yield a more balanced approach to the execution of the SYSC specific budget cut.