Tuesday evening, I spoke before the City Council to encourage that body to meet with City of Lowell school administration before approving the budget that was before them. You read that correctly, I was advocating that the Council not approve the budget. Why? I don’t believe that the City’s contribution to the school budget adequately considers our public school students.
Here are my remarks:
Former Presidential Advisor Paul Begala once stated, a budget is a “profoundly moral document” in that it enumerates those things that we view as priorities. We fund those ideas and things which we value.
As a retired elementary teacher with 30 years experience, it was my privilege to teach in the Lowell Public Schools for 20 years. And while I appreciate the City’s efforts to meet minimum Net School Spending requirements during the last several years, that effort should not stop at the minimum. We should not expect to just “get by”.
The educational challenges to communities such as Lowell are deep and sometimes complicated. Children attending our City’s public schools often have needs complicated by language, by poverty, and by culture. Stagnant computations of Chapter 70 aid, based on 20 year old formulae mean our schools operate with fewer resources to support these students. Increasingly, funding is redirected to charter schools in the City and this complicates the fiscal picture even further.
Tonight, the City Council considers a Home Rule petition, and I applaud you all for insisting that the Commonwealth meet its obligations for fully funding charter school tuition reimbursement. It is unacceptable for the Commonwealth to shrug off that reimbursement promise and leave urban communities like Lowell with fewer and fewer resources.
Yet however complex the issues may be, it is still the responsibility of our community to ensure that funding for schools is adequate. Those funds must guarantee that students and public schools in Lowell continue to be a reflection of what we, as community value.
Over the span of my teaching career, there were often years when that minimum contribution was not met. During those times, our students lost out on opportunities as positions such as Science Specialists and Librarians were eliminated. Our school buildings delayed repairs or improvements that now loom ahead as major undertakings.
Is education is important? Is it something that Lowell values? Or is it sufficient to minimally fund the schools and just get by?
Doing the minimum does not suffice for our children, and it should not be okay for our school budget either.
A reduction in personnel is felt when positions are eliminated and other staff members pick up the slack. We get by. More often than you realize, supplies and resources needed for classrooms are funded out of teachers’ pockets, sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars a year. And once again, we get by.
The Lowell Public Schools is an asset to our community for which we can all be proud. It is not sufficient to just “get by”. Our City leaders need to envision the schools that will fully serve our children and fund that vision. Instead of beginning with a minimum budget number and fitting school expenditures to that amount, what if we look at what is needed first and then worked together to fund that?
We need to move beyond the “just getting by.” We need to strive for more than a minimum.
And so, I urge the City Council to increase funding for the 2018 proposed school budget. I urge you not to vote to approve the budget before you until both School and City administrations have met to discuss solutions to this fiscal crunch.
Let’s demonstrate that here in Lowell, we value our public schools and that our schools and our children are a priority.