FY17 Budget Summary & Reflections

Dear reader: Thank you for visiting my blog, Public School Notes. This is where I post essays, book reviews, and thought-pieces about education, particularly as related to the Cambridge Public Schools.  I also have a newsletter that I use to keep constituents informed about Cambridge School Committee meetings, policy motions, and decisions, which you can subscribe to by going to my website: www.emilydexterforcambridge.com.

Emily Dexter, Ed.D.
Public School Advocate
First-Term Cambridge School Committee Member

Budget Summary & Reflections: A review of the elementary program, class size issues, social workers, art teachers, K-5 world language, CRLS enrollment increases, upper school family engagement

The days are getting longer, more birds, and the school year is wrapping up, with only one more School Committee meeting—Tuesday, June 21st. There will be a summer meeting on Tuesday, August 2nd, 6:00 pm, and an SC retreat on August 16 & 17, both open to the public. Regular meetings resume on Tuesday, September 6.  (School year meetings are the first and third Tuesday of every month.) The new superintendent, Dr. Kenny Salim, starts on July 1.

In terms of the CPS budget for next year ($172 million), the final vote in April was five members voting “yes” and two of us voting “present.” I had reservations about the budget but chose not to vote “no” as a gesture of goodwill to the administration and my fellow School Committee members. I did not vote “yes,” however, because: 1) the budget was almost identical to the previous year’s budget, showing little response to teacher, parent, or community testimony at the budget hearings, 2) staffing is inequitable across the 12 elementary schools, even taking into account demographics, with some schools spending up to half of their School Improvement Funds for supplementary instructional staffing; and 3) the process allowed for too little deliberation about the actual details of staffing and spending.  We had several meetings about our general budget goals at the beginning of the process, but discussed the actual Proposed Budget for only two hours before the day of the vote, even though the budget describes how Cambridge will spend 30% of its municipal budget. (We also had one  two-hour question-answer session with principals.) I hope we will have a much more robust discussion next year about actual staffing and spending decisions as proposed by the Superintendent. See Cambridge Day for some excellent articles on the budget process, including about the final vote: Cambridge Day article final CPS budget vote. The video of the final budget discussion and vote is at:  Budget Vote Meeting Video

There were, however, some positive outcomes to the budget process. The most important was that the administration made a commitment to review comprehensively the elementary JK-5 program, including class sizes and staff allocations. Though the Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education indicated that her ideal is for all 1st and 2nd grade classes to be no more than 20 students, roughly 300 1st and 2nd graders (30%) are projected to be in classes of 21-25 next year.  Some schools have full-time aides in some or all 1st-5th grade classrooms, others do not. The number of intervention teachers per student varies widely across the 12 elementary schools, again even taking into account school demographics. The administration also indicated that they might want to provide some or all elementary schools with math intervention teachers in FY18. The SC also voted to fund, in FY18, full-time art teachers in the elementary schools that currently have only part-time teachers, and indicated a commitment to beginning a K-5 world language program in FY18.

The FY17 budget did add, for next year, two half-time social worker positions to be assigned to two of the elementary schools. (Other social workers in the schools are assigned primarily to special education.)

Another positive was the substantial discussion about the rapidly increasing enrollment at CRLS. The two biggest questions were: 1) Are class sizes getting too large? and 2) Are students able to enroll in most of the courses they sign up for, or are they being closed out of too many classes? In sum, does CRLS have enough teachers? CRLS will hire at least three more teachers for the coming year—two in English and one in History, which should help reduce class sizes in those subjects. The CRLS principal indicated that he would like all required academic classes to have no more than 20 students.

Finally, though the four upper schools were not given family liaisons in the budget, they were given $25,000 each for family engagement.  They can use that money to help pay for a staff person or for other purposes related to family engagement.

Thank you for reading!  Comments welcome!

-Emily Dexter


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