Once again, the meeting focused almost entirely on the state of the budget, so that's what I'm going to focus on. The proposed budget looks pretty similar to what we saw two weeks ago, though there are a few changes. To briefly review, here are the proposed cuts at each level:
Tier 1 (best case scenario):
6.5 positions (teachers) are cut in the high school (meaning kids will have 2 study halls a year instead of one) - save $351,000
One assistant principal position is cut in the high school - save $80,000
The preschool/child study center is cut - save $71,819
Some cuts to athletics (reducing some assistant coaching positions, largely) - save $100,000
One assistant principal position is cut in the middle school - save $72,000
One librarian is cut in the middle school - save $54,000
4 teachers are cut (one team) in the middle school - save $216,000
1 world language teacher is cut in the middle school (language/languages to be determined) - save $54,000
1 guidance counselor is cut in the middle school - $54,000
Tier 2 (medium case)
All the cuts in Tier 1, PLUS another 1.8 reduction in MS world language and 3.5 reduction in HS course offerings
Tier 3 (worst case)
All the cuts in Tiers 1 and 2, PLUS another MS team and 3 more HS positions
So, the good news (if one can consider any of this good news) is that it looks like some 7th grade world language will remain, which I do think is a priority for many families, and is in line with district wide commitments to language. I'm glad to see these positions restored. It also seems like the HS staff is doing a very good job of trying to make sure that the cuts in classes are to those traditionally under-enrolled classes (across departments), which seems smart -- I know all cuts are tough, but it seems like some cuts will impact fewer students than others.
We then had a long and pretty interesting discussion on languages to offer, in light of two forms of valuable data that was presented by the Superintendent.
First, the following is the enrollment data by language 7th to 12th grade:
Spanish - 167 MS, 419 HS
French - 145 MS, 306 HS
Latin - 56 MS, 100 HS
Chinese - 43 MS, 79 HS
German - 20 MS, 72 HS
Russian - 17 MS, 19 HS
Second, data on what languages are offered at the MS level in 18 other districts was presented. This data shows that virtually all local and Boston districts offer Spanish and French (including Belchertown, Cambridge, Newton, Longmeadow, Sunderland, Hadley, Easthampton, etc.). A few offer a third language, which is (at least on the data reported) most typically Latin (6 of the 18 districts offer Latin in addition to Spanish and French). A few offer other languages (Chinese in 4 of the districts, Mandarin in two of the districts, German in 2 of the districts, Portugese in 1 district, Italian in 1 district). Only one district of these 18 offers 6 languages at this level (Wellesley).
OK, now here is the dreaded OPINION part of my blog. I am a big fan of world languages, and I think this is a core aspect of our curriculum. I'd like to see language in 7th grade, and I'd frankly like to see it K to 6. But I think it is important that we focus on offering SOME language more than I think it is important that we offer so many languages, and I think cost efficiencies DO matter. We can all say that cost/enrollment isn't the only factor, but really, when you are talking about designing a school budget, it is irresponsible to not consider costs. I haven't run the numbers, but it is pretty easy to see that the per pupil cost is a whole lot more for the kids taking Russian and German than for the kids taking Spanish or French. And on some level, when you are choosing what to cut, I just think that has to be considered. I believe it would be fine to offer 2 or 3 or even 4 languages in the middle school -- six seems to me to be just excessive, and to have other consequences (e.g., maintaining six languages for two years at the MS level likely means other cuts, such as much larger classes). I'd be in favor of allowing kids to choose from a broader set of languages at the HS level, but again, that would depend on numbers and student interests. In sum, and I know I'm not risking the ire of many parents right now, I think teaching language in middle school is TO ME part of the core educational mission of our schools. But I don't think teaching RUSSIAN or GERMAN is part of our core mission.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.