Dear reader: Thank you for visiting my blog, Public School Notes. I also have a newsletter about Cambridge School Committee policy decisions. You can subscribe by going to my School Committee website: www.emilydexterforcambridge.com.
Emily Dexter, Ed.D.
First-Term Cambridge School Committee Member
CPS Budget Priorities for FY18
It shouldn’t need to be said, but the CPS budget priority for FY18 should be to strengthen our staffing infrastructure. By that I mean teachers, special educators, family liaisons, classroom aides, school social workers, guidance counselors, intervention specialists, and other school level staff who work directly with CPS students and families. Not only do we need the right professionals in our schools, we need enough professionals. This is particularly true at the transition grades of 1st-2nd, 6th, and 9th-10th. These are the grades where we should be front-loading resources to set students up to succeed. Enough staff means, at minimum:
Family liaisons in every school, including the upper schools. Family liaisons are a unique component of the Cambridge Public Schools. Currently CPS has liaisons in the elementary schools and at the high school. Adding family liaisons to the upper schools is essential if we want families to feel connected to their child’s CPS experience from preK through high school. Liaisons don’t just give tours. They forge relationships with families and serve as the point-person for community-building. (4 liaisons +0.4 for Amigos * $40,000 = $176,000)
Smaller class sizes for all 1st and 2nd graders. Educators don’t agree on a lot, but they do agree that children in the early grades should be in classes of 18 or fewer, PARTICULARLY in schools with low-income children. That’s because young children need a lot of adult attention and, for academic language development, a lot of opportunities to talk to adults. With our 1st-8th grade class size cap of 25, some of our youngest children end up in classes that are 40% larger than is developmentally appropriate. First and 2nd grade are THE CRITICAL grades for learning foundational reading and math skills. If we want to close opportunity gaps that are rooted in poverty and family stress, this is the place to start. Reducing 1st and 2nd grade class sizes would require only 2 additional teachers per school. If we can’t find the extra classrooms right away, those teachers could co-teach with the current 1st and 2nd grade teachers. (2 teachers * 12 schools * $65,000 = $1,560,000)
Special education co-teachers in all upper school math classes and all 6th grade ELA classes. When the Innovation Agenda was first discussed, School Committee members asked for co-teachers in every math class, 6th-8th. What they got was 6th grade only. Upper school students, during their 6th-8th grade careers, take 15 academic classes in English, math, social studies, science, and world language, but have a special educator as a co-teacher only in 6th grade math. With increasing upper school enrollment, class sizes are getting larger. Having co-teachers in all upper school math classes and 6th grade English classes would require three more teachers per school. It would be worth it. (3 co-teachers * 4 upper schools + 1 co-teacher for Amigos * $65,000 = $845,000)
An additional reading specialist in every elementary school. There’s good evidence that one-to-one or very small group reading lessons accelerate the learning of students reading below grade level, but only if that intensive teaching happens every day. Once or twice per week does nothing for struggling readers. Most CPS elementary school principals use School Improvement Funds to hire extra part-time reading teachers, which is NOT what School Improvement Funds are for. At minimum, we should give every elementary school one additional full-time reading specialist, which would total 12 additional specialists. (12 reading specialists * $65,000 = $780,000)
School-wide social workers in every elementary school. Every school in Cambridge has an on-site school nurse responsible for students’ physical health, paid for by the City’s public health department. Why don’t our schools have on-site mental health specialists, such as school social workers? If we’re going to educate the whole child, we need professionals in our schools who are trained in mental health and school climate. We currently have four schools with half-time school-wide social workers, which is a great start. To have a full-time school-wide social worker in every elementary school would require 10 more social workers. THIS IS A COST WE COULD ASK THE CITY’S PUBLIC HEALTH DEPARTMENT TO TAKE ON. (10 social workers * $65,000 = $650,000)
Smaller class sizes in all 9th and 10th grade English and math classes. The state’s Foundation Budget is based on a presumed enrollment of 17 students per high school class. The average class size in BB&N’s high school is only 12 students. Imagine how much more CRLS students could learn if their 9th and 10th grade math and English classes were capped at 18 students. Front-loading resources — investing more in students when they are in 9th and 10th grade — would prepare them for more rigorous study in their 11th and 12th grade classes. This would require, at most, 3 addition math teachers and 3 additional English teachers. (6 HS teachers * 65,000 = $390,000)
Smaller caseloads for high school guidance counselors. CRLS has 1,900 students and many curricular and extracurricular opportunities. It’s a resource-rich high school for students who have enough systems know-how to navigate complex environments. Students who don’t have that know-how, and whose parents don’t have that know-how, get much less out of our high school. That’s why we need a strong guidance program with counselors who can get to know their students’ interests, connect them to opportunities at CRLS, and help them plan their post-high school futures. Guidance counselors can’t do this with their current caseloads of 240 students. Reducing caseloads to a more manageable 160 students–40 per grade–would require only four more counselors. (4 guidance counselors * 65,000 = $260,000)
[Already decided upon: Full-time art teachers in every school and elementary world language program. During budget discussions last year, the School Committee passed motions specifying that in FY18: 1) CPS would provide full-time art teachers in every elementary school. Currently several of the schools have only part-time art teachers. 2) CPS would begin an elementary world language program. Both these motions require funding for additional art and world language teachers.]
To bring CPS to the level of staffing suggested above (not including the art and world language teachers) would cost an additional $4,661,000. If the City picked up the cost of school-wide elementary social workers, it would add only $3,881,000 in salaries and $1,087,000 more in benefits to the CPS budget — a total increase of $4,968,000. That’s only 3% more than what we spend now. With commercial property owners paying two-thirds of Cambridge’s taxes, that’s less than $40 extra per household.
Before we try the fancy stuff — new curricula, new data systems, new professional development initiatives, let’s ensure that every CPS school is well-staffed. In FY19 we can turn to the fancy stuff.
For more on the CPS budget, see previous posts, including “Why Do We Spend So Much” and “Well-Staffed Schools and Classrooms.”