After her on Nov.1, Board of Education President Julia Walker put down her gavel and said goodbye at Tuesday evening's meeting.
Walker's departure was believed to be work-related. The lawyer and mother of two high school students recently began working full-time for Atlantic Health Systems.
While many Board members acknowledged that they had often disagreed with Walker, their respect for her and her dedication to the 6,300 children in the Westfield school district was universal.
BOE Vice President Rich Mattessich presented Walker with a gift: photos of each of the Boards on which she served along with personal messages from BOE members.
Mitch Slater, also a Board member, drew laughs from the crowd when he offered Walker a framed copy of her own Facebook page. The two had disagreed for two years over creating a , Slater said.
While many expressed their regret at saying goodbye, the multitude were grateful for the time Walker devoted to the school district.
Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan presented Walker with a bouquet of flowers on behalf of the students of Westfield.
Walker thanked her husband, children and fellow BOE members and said she had learned a great deal during the time she served.
Closing the meeting, the outgoing president encouraged others to send in a resume to fill the vacant seat on the Board before the .
"It's so worth it," she said.
Earlier in the meeting, Dr. Michael Weissman, Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services, presented a slideshow in which he outlined needs, both immediate and projected, within the district.
Acknowledging that the autism community is growing in Westfield and nationwide, Weissman said another teacher is needed for the Leaps and Bounds program that serves children ages three to five who are on the autism spectrum.
Weissman said the district "can't always project what the needs will be" because children are referred to the program, either by a parent or Early Intervention, 120 days prior to a child turning 3. Because of the nature of the teaching style, which is based on Applied Behavioral Analysis, the student-teacher ratio must be kept at either one-to-one or two-to-one.
When asked about the potential cost of hiring another teacher, Weissman said while it could cost between $75,000 to $95,000 per year, the cost to send a child out of district could run between $45,000 and $90,000. That figure does not include transportation costs, he said.
With three children coming into the program, Weissman said sending them out of district would not be cost effective. He also noted that there is room for such a classroom in the .
Additionally, Weissman said it is important to look at programs for children with special needs on the elementary and intermediate levels as well.
The next BOE meeting will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 6, at which time BOE Facilities Committee Chairwoman Jane Clancy said she hopes to have a proposal regarding which would be placed on school rooftops.
By early January Slater said he hopes, with the help of the district’s technology specialist, Brian Aauker, to have a look at the numbers for taking the whole .