It seems pretty clear to me

Screenshot 2018-06-08 07.05.05About two weeks ago, the Massachusetts Legislature failed once again to update school funding formulae known as the “Foundation”.  In my opinion, this is not only a huge disappointment, it is a disservice to students, families, and public schools in 351 cities and towns across Massachusetts.

Here in Lowell, the erosion of school services and supports can be traced in the budget cuts that have been necessary over the last nearly 20 years. In the late 1990s, when an elementary class size reached 25, it was common practice to assign a paraprofessional to that classroom, which allowed for more focused and individualized attention to students. In 2015, my retirement year, my grade level of 100 students and 4 classroom teachers shared 1 paraprofessional.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, elementary school staff included not only a library aide, but a certified Library Media Specialist. The library was a space where students not only learned research skills, but were exposed to wonderfully diverse literature and media curated by the Library Media staff. By the mid-2000s, all but one Library Media specialist was cut from the Lowell Public Schools and school libraries were maintained by Library Media aides. This year, 2018-19, the school budget has cut all library staff in Grades Kindergarten through Grade 8 essentially closing the libraries to any students below Grade 9.

These are but two examples of service cuts in Lowell. There have been many others. Teachers in Lowell spend inordinate amounts of personal money (in my own case, I spent on average of $1,000 each year and some years much more) to supply classrooms. Social workers, Speech and Language therapists, OT, PT, Special Education…. all carry larger-than-reasonable caseloads.

Have municipalities like Burlington or Wellesley cut K-8 library staff and access to school libraries? Of course not. Wealthier communities make up the shortfalls in Foundation funding from their property tax base and a community that is able to afford to allocate more funds toward schools. Does that seem equitable to anyone? (read WBUR’s commentary Inaction on School Funding Will Keep Opportunity Gaps in Place.)

What does our Commonwealth say about our schools and the Commonwealth’s responsibility to fund education? We only need to look at the Commonwealth’s Constitution and this paragraph:

“Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them, especially the university at Cambridge [and] public schools and grammar schools in the towns….” Mass. Const. Pt. 2, C. 5, § 2.

As of this writing, the Legislature has failed our schools and our children. They have failed in their duties to “cherish” education and they have failed to provide the funding that would allow ALL public schools across Massachusetts to provide equitable educational opportunities.

We must tell our narratives as parents, students, educators, and community members. We must let our legislators know in no uncertain terms, that to continue to underfund the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations is unacceptable. We need to cherish our schools here in Massachusetts and fix the funding so that every child has access to equitable educational opportunities.

Are we just getting by?

newbasketsTuesday 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.