It’s Not Too Early to Start Thinking about Next Year’s Budget

T Shirt Yard Sign Small  If you would like to have someone on the School Committee who carefully analyzes the school department budget and compares our staffing to that of other districts, VOTE #1 FOR EMILY DEXTER ON ELECTION DAY, TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3RD.  My campaign website is:

About the budget:

The Cambridge School Committee will soon begin the process of discussing and planning the public school budget for next year. We were fortunate last year that the city manager gave CPS $500,000 more than what was needed for “maintenance.”  I’m hoping that this year the School Committee will equitably staff the elementary schools, and look at what’s really needed at the school and classroom level to serve every student enrolled in our public schools.  I think we need more intervention specialists for the elementary grades, reading and math, and more teachers at the high school.  Read more:

A few things to note about the school department budget:

  • It’s probably the most important task of the SC and the most important policy document of the year.
  • The City Council, for the last several years during budget hearings, has encouraged the School Committee to request additional funds.  Last year Council members were even more emphatic that they wanted CPS to accept more money in order to add more elementary math teachers and otherwise improve staffing to improve achievement. This suggests that this is the year for the School Committee to direct the superintendent to add the school and classroom staff required for equity across schools and to meet the needs of our diverse student body.  The longer the School Committee and school department postpone providing fair and adequate staffing to all schools, the more our struggling students fall behind; and the less overall attention, differentiation, and connection with adults all students receive during the school day.
  • Several years ago, when CPS was considering extending the school day by one hour, the city manager promised to add to the CPS budget allotment the $4.0 million that would be required to increase teacher salaries.  CPS teachers voted down the longer day, but the school department never asked for $4.0 million for other efforts to improve achievement, such as reducing class sizes in targeted grades, or adding more intervention teachers to provide students more frequent and sustained intervention support; both of which have shown more reliable positive effects on achievement than a longer day.
  • Our 12 elementary schools are unequally staffed, which has a particularly deleterious effect on low-income students in the more understaffed schools, who, research suggests, benefit most from small classes (hence a great way to narrow achievement gaps) and who, statistically, are more likely to need the services of intervention teachers. There are low-income students in every CPS school, and large income-based achievement gaps in 11 out of 12 elementary schools.  The only school without a large gap is the school that has the most staffing per pupil of all the elementary schools.
  • This year’s budget shows some elementary schools have only one full-time intervention teacher on staff, while others have two or even three. The ratio of low-income students per reading intervention or Title 1 teacher ranges from a low of 50 low-income students per intervention teacher to a high of 140 students per teacher.  None of the elementary schools have math intervention teachers, at least as listed in the budget. There are ELA and math intervention teachers in the upper schools, when it is even more difficult and expensive to remediate weak reading and math skills. Having no math intervention teachers in the elementary schools makes no sense developmentally or economically, particularly when we are trying to prepare all students for the new accelerated math pathway.
  • CRLS enrollment is increasing but CRLS staffing is not.  In 2012, CRLS had 1,540 students, 157 general education teachers, and 8 guidance counselors.  This year they have roughly 1,765 students, 159 GenEd teachers, and 8 guidance counselors.  According to state data, our student: teacher ratio for academic classroom teachers is the same as at Newton North HS, and worse than at Newton South HS, both of which have far fewer low-income and immigrant students.
  • It’s worth noting that the state calculates a “foundation” budget for each district, i.e. a minimum budget, based on the following assumption: “The foundation budget assumes that high school students cost more to educate than elementary school students, and it assumes that elementary school students cost more than middle schoolers. This variation across grade levels is driven mostly by different class size assumptions—class sizes of 17 for high school, 22 for elementary, and 25 for middle school. High schools typically have the smallest class sizes due to the need for more specialized class offerings. Elementary schools typically have smaller class sizes than middle schools due to the greater attention needs of younger children.” [From a report from the Mass. Budget and Policy Center.
  • Cambridge should be staffing our schools beyond the minimum requirements.  [Contrast CPS spending on high school athletics vs. high school classroom teachers: The state’s foundation budget for athletics is $200 per student, which would total $350,000 for CRLS; our actual athletics budget is $1.2 million.  That would be great if CPS showed the same commitment to CRLS academics.  Without that equal commitment, it feels a little like Friday Night Lights in terms of school department priorities.]
  • The 2007 budget shows that ten years ago, the CPS targeted class size for grades 1-3 was 18 students; now it is 22 students.  The school department also has cut classroom aide positions, resulting in early grade teachers having larger class sizes and less help than a decade ago.
  • Last year, upper school family liaisons, according to the superintendent, “were in the budget until the last minute,” but then were taken out in order to fund something else.  At a spring meeting of upper school principals, one principal implored the School Committee to provide the upper schools with liaisons, and this is also recommended in the Equity Report on Tuesday night’s agenda.
  • The Mayor’s Equity Report makes several recommendations related to staffing and the overall school budget; these recommendations should be funded in next year’s FY17 budget. 
  • Since 2004, Cambridge’s Public Safety budget has increased by 62%, for which I am grateful. But the education budget has increased by only 39%.  (Not adjusted for inflation.) The city’s overall non-Education budget increased by 71%, showing that we have indeed become “a rich city.
  • CPS is second in the state for total per pupil spending; but 29th in the state for per pupil spending on classroom and specialist teachers. We are spending the same per pupil on teachers this year ($7,588) as in 2007 ($7,597).
  • According to this year’s budget (pg. 62), since 2012 the school department has added 11.4 new central office positions under the categories of “Academic Coordinators & Directors,” and “Managers and Professional Support Staff,” increasing those two categories combined from 47.7 FTEs to 59.1 FTEs, an increase of 24%.  This does not include the 8 school level administrators required for the four upper schools.
  • State and federal grants have been cut over the past years.  CPS will receive roughly $7.0 million less in state and federal grants this year as compared with in 2007; $9.0 million vs. $16.0 million.
  • Despite the city’s commitment to the arts, and despite our wealth, some elementary schools still have only part-time art and/or music teachers, which means they are not full members of the school community and faculty.  And still not even a pilot world language program for a 6-hour K-5 school.
  • According to the state, 23% of our total budget goes to “insurance, retirement.” That’s $5,979 per student.  CPS used to be a larger public school system, and has probably seen a bigger reduction in enrollment than most districts.  Does the city’s retirement payments to past CPS employees get added to the per pupil expenditure calculation for current students?  Or do we just provide more generous benefits than other districts?  It looks like Brookline and Newton pay roughly $3,000 per pupil for this category of spending.  Is it just that we have more overall employees per pupil?  Why are we so much higher?

Thanks for reading.  Feel free to forward.

 Emily Dexter

New Candidate for School Committee

CPS Parent from 1997 to 2014



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