By Aleah Floyd
BU News Service
This article was originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle.
After numerous meetings, roundtables and retreats, Cambridge Public School Superintendent Kenneth Salim officially presented his proposed fiscal year 2019 school budget to the Cambridge Public School Committee on March 15.
In addition to including 39 new positions and priorities set by the District Plan, the proposed budget takes aim at the achievement gap, partly with the aid of a $295,000 grant from Nellie Mae. For example, it proposes increased specialized instruction within programs like Level Up to diversify its school system.
The fiscal 2019 budget runs $191.1 million, a $8.1 million increase to fiscal 2018, approximately 4.4 percent more than last year. While a large portion will go to salary and benefit costs, the remainder of the budget will be targeted at enrollment, student needs, transportation, technology, special education and other expenses. The number of students in the system has grown 732 students over the past five years, the superintendent reported.
New effort to improve equity
For the first time, the CPS system established a multi-year district plan, according to Salim.
“While the budget is one important part of our work in the district,” said Salim, “we see the District Plan as shaping how we do our work on a regular basis. It provides a look as to how our resources align with our priorities.”
In addition to Level Up, Enhanced Seventh Grade Math, the Teacher Diversity Pipeline and Cultural Proficiency Training initiatives are also aimed at addressing lack of equity and access. Results from the achievement tests show that students from low-income backgrounds, minority students and students with disabilities were not performing as hoped, Salim explained in a telephone interview.
“A couple areas that we are looking to deepen efforts in are family engagement and mathematics at the middle grades,” he said, adding that there are several programs that aim to create “pathways to an advanced curriculum and personalized support for all students.”
The budget will also fund family liaisons who will work in both elementary and upper schools, towards the development of students in the home setting.
Half-time liaisons for upper schools
School Committee Budget Co-Chair Emily Dexter said she was pleasantly surprised to see the addition of at least half-time family and community liaisons in the upper schools. Dexter said she feels that the budget should always be spent close to the student.
“Resources within the classroom and school level with math and reading specialists working with kids and developing their skills are essential to their growth within the schools,” said Dexter in an interview prior to the meeting.
Resources and support come in many different forms but first and foremost come from people involved, Dexter noted.
“If we don’t provide enough resources, we won’t accomplish our goals.” said Dexter.
The Engaged Learning program, geared toward innovative thinking and human problem solving, will take shape in the form of a design lab to help students creatively develop.
“We want to make sure that all voices are represented in the budget,” said Dexter. “We are essentially taking a piece of clay [the budget] and shaping it into something that everyone can agree on.”
‘Insane’ stratification at CRLS
Juliette Low Fleury, senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, is a student representative to the Cambridge School Committee. She provides students’ opinions to the committee and discusses with them any issues that may be occurring at the school. Fleury said improving student equity and access is one of the most important aspects of the budget, and she is concerned that CLRS has not done everything it could to assure all students are both treated the same and have access to the same excellent education from the moment they arrive.
She noted that the stratification between students in different levels of classes and different “groups is insane,” said Fleury in an interview on Mar. 9.
“There are people in your grade you won’t know and have never seen before because there is not a social space, on an equal playing field, where you would be able to interact with them,” she said.
Some of the programs in the budget aim to tackle this issue. For example, the proposed initiatives of Cultural Proficiency Training – led by faculty and students – and the Teacher Diversity Pipeline program would be steps forward, according the superintendent.
″[They] would do a lot to build unity within a community that values diversity,” Fleury noted.
The School Committee will continue to revise and rework the proposed budget prior to the planned approval hearing on April 3. For more information about the Cambridge Public School Committee go to cpsd.us/school_committee.