Between 2004 and 2015, while Cambridge boomed economically, the city budget increased from $341 million to $524 million. Within the city budget, though, the public school budget increased by only 33% (an average of 2.6% per year), while the rest of the city budget increased by 65% (average 4.6% per year). (Enrollment did dip during some of those years, but the per pupil expenditure increased by only 34%.) In addition, state and federal grants to CPS decreased in real dollars from $16 million to only $9 million, cutting almost $7 million dollars from the budget. Drilling down to the classroom level, per pupil spending on classroom and specialist teachers increased by only 12% over those years, while at the state level, per pupil spending on teachers increased by 26%. In 2005, CPS was 4th in the state in terms of spending on teachers; in 2013 we had slipped to 17th. Sadly, we spend roughly the same per pupil on teachers as Salem, which is not a wealthy town.
In terms of the city budget, the biggest dollar increase since 2004 has been in the Public Safety budget (mostly Police and Fire), which increased by $43 million, from $74 million to $117 million. The police department budget increased by 64% and the fire department by 61%. I’m impressed by the quality of the police and fire departments in Cambridge, and grateful that we can afford to spend far more per resident than many other municipalities on police and fire. (For example, we spend roughly 70% more per resident on police than Brookline.) I wish we could have more police and fire protection programs. But I am curious why the school department budget increase was so small relative to increases in the public safety and other departmental budgets over the past 11 years. I’ve asked several CPS administrators, school committee members, and city councilors, but the answer has always been “I don’t know.”
There are a number of things CPS could do to improve the schools and increase achievement, but reducing class sizes and student:teacher ratios is probably the most important improvement the school department could make for students, teachers, and parents. This year, though the target maximum class size for elementary student is 22 students, 29% of all 1st graders and and 21% of all 2nd graders will be in classes of 23-24 students. Perhaps it is time for a citywide conversation about how much we are willing to spend to create excellent schools that serve every student well.
|Pub. Safe. Budget||Annual Pub. Safe. Increase||City Non-School Annual Increase||CPS Budget||Annual CPS Increase||CPS State and Federal Grants|
|Percent increase FY04-FY15||58.3%||4.3%||4.6%||32.9%||2.6%||–5,873,415|
|Dollar Increase FY04-FY15||43,195,205||38,797,178|