It’s budget time in Lowell and the predictions look a bit grim. I won’t second guess (most) of the reasoning behind proposed budget amounts, but I am dismayed that the belt tightening has been mind numbing.
As a former educator in Lowell, even without children (or grandchildren) in the City Schools, I feel compelled to speak up. Those are “my” kids who are moving along through a terrific urban district and they deserve as many opportunities as we can provide. Here’s a letter that I sent to our School Committee Members this morning. I plan to attend tonight’s Budget Hearing (Butler School, 6:30 pm), LISTEN and then advocate for them as best I can. I hope many of you will do this as well. Let’s work together to ensure that Lowell Public Schools meet our students’ needs.
Dear School Committee Members,
I am writing to you today in support of one of the budget proposals, and also in hopes of engaging your support of another.
As Mr. Gendron said at the last Committee Meeting, the good news is that the budget is balanced and that there has been a herculean effort to preserve current school department employees. That being said, there is much to reflect on.
I fully support the effort to create a CSA Day School to accommodate Lowell students needing services as outlined in IEPs. Bringing services that had been contracted through out-of-district placements is not only expensive, but worrisome for parents. Students receiving these services at collaboratives and other placement agencies often are on buses or vans for lengthy rides out of their community. By tapping in to talent and expertise in the area of Autism within our own education community, not only are parents and students able to eliminate long, tiring rides to service agencies, then the schools can ensure that education funding is spent judiciously in support of the children. In my opinion, the School Committee should support this effort as a long-term solution to meeting the needs of children right here in Lowell.
I am, however, deeply disappointed in the effort to eliminate Library Aides from the K-8 public schools. As a former educator, now retired, I am concerned with the short-sightedness of this action. Library Aides not only check out materials for staff and for students, they maintain the school libraries as a welcoming environment in which to pursue literacy. Books that are in need of repair, are fixed and reshelved. New and replacement materials are added to school libraries. Weekly book exchanges are a time when students can explore new reading genres. The Library Aides also assist students using electronic card catalogues, a research skill that will be necessary as a student moves from grade to grade. Without the assistance provided by Library Aides will these valuable literacy and library skills still exist in the coming years? I do not think they will and I wonder if in a few years, the School Committee will be decrying the loss of library skills.
The budget prepared by the School Department has been trimmed, and is a representation of consensus by school administrators as to what can be done with the reduced funds coming from the City. These fund are not adequate.
I implore the School Committee to engage the City Manager and City Council in a further discussion for funding. While the loss of available funds to a larger-than-anticipated transportation bid is understandable, the loss of monies due to expansion of grade levels at local charter schools is not.
Last evening’s City Council approved funding to fix the roofs at three schools. My questions are: a) will these repairs become part of the City’s in-kind contribution charged back to the school department and b) would these repairs have been needed had the City met Net School Spending amounts in prior years when those repairs may have been minor ones? And finally, c) should our current students “pay” for reduced opportunities at schools because of short-sighted budgeting that occurred in years past.
I urge the School Committee members to meet with the City Council and City Manager and demand increased access to funding for one of the greatest assests in the City of Lowell: our public schools.