For the past several years during the city’s spring hearings about the school department budget, City Councilors and School Committee members have said to the effect: “We should have started talking about these issues much earlier in the year and had more extensive discussion about CPS’s goals and budget needs. Now it’s really too late to do anything but move this current budget along.” City Councilors have, however, consistently suggested during these discussions that the city can afford to allocate more money to the school department than it currently does. (Link to video of May 2016 CC Budget hearing at end of post.)
For this reason, I am hoping that the SC and CC will start meeting and talking about the FY17 CPS budget early this year, in September, and will schedule several joint round tables and public meetings on the subject this fall. September may sound early, but when the School Committee had a budget hearing for teachers last year in early December, it was already too late for teacher testimony to have much impact on the budget: though most of the teachers who testified were from the preK-5 schools and the high school, very few staffing or budget changes were made at those levels.
I know the SC will be focused on the superintendent search in September, but that should not be a reason to postpone budget discussions. If the SC is too busy to take the lead, it is certainly within the City Council’s purview to take the lead on at least scheduling those discussions. At the end of the day, it is the City Councilors, not the School Committee members, who are responsible for the current and future well-being of every Cambridge resident, young and old. The Council is also explicitly responsible for large-scale capital expenses related to the school buildings, some of which need far more maintenance than the school department has been able to afford within its own budget. The 2014 review team from the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education seemed shocked by the condition of some of our buildings and classrooms, and noted in their report that the current 10-year rebuilding schedule “will require the attendance of almost a generation of Cambridge’s children in spaces that are not equitable or supportive of the excellent education to which the district aspires” (p. 45). (See DESE’s report posted under “CPS Official Reports and Budget Documents” on the homepage of Public School Notes.)
I suspect the SC would welcome the CC taking leadership on scheduling these discussions. To their credit, all the SC members have expressed a desire to work more collaboratively with the Council rather than finding themselves in last minute turf battles and heated arguments during budget hearings that do not serve the SC-CC relationship or the CPS students.
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Candidate for Cambridge School Committee
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