By Paul Burton

TAUNTON (CBS) – Dressed in bright orange t-shirts, hundreds of Taunton educators rallied on the Green on Friday to protest against school cuts and layoffs. Taunton Education Association President James Quaintance said more than 150 Taunton educators received layoff notices and the district is proposing nearly $4 million in program and staff cuts as well as a hiring freeze.

“It’s inappropriate for them the ask us for a pay freeze when the city has $17.5 million in a rainy day fund. And the deficit for the school committee is $3.9 million,” Quaintance said.

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Taunton High School teacher Deloris Fortunato was laid off earlier this month. “It’s very frustrating. I teach childcare. We have a huge passion for what we are doing. We are not doing this for a great salary so to leave my students is very hard,” Fortunato said.

Teachers are also concerned about the state’s initial fall school reopening guidelines which will require both students and teachers to wear masks and social distance three feet apart.

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“We have 30 students right now in classrooms and they are shoulder to shoulder now so how can we separate them into 3 feet distances it’s impossible with the state’s constraints that we have in the building,” Quaintance said.

Taunton schools are not alone. Dozens of school districts across the state find themselves in a similar position. In Leominster, 127 school employees were laid off this month. Superintendents are blaming the budget cuts on the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are being asked to reduce our budgets and also being asked to increase our budgets with the PPE we need to have in place when we return in the fall so these are difficult challenging times,” Taunton Public Schools Superintendent John Cabral said.

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But these educators say there is no price too high when it comes to educating children. “Without funding our children we have no hope for the future,” Fortunato said.

Paul Burton