Cambridge residents advocated against staff cuts in the budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year at a Cambridge Public Schools meeting Thursday evening.
The current budget details the district’s plan to cut nearly 30 education interventionists and paraprofessionals, who currently work within CPS schools to provide additional academic support to students. These positions were funded using federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grants, established in 2020 to support school districts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But as the funding is set to expire on September 23, 2024, superintendent Victoria L. Greer said in a Tuesday meeting that the positions must be cut to avoid “a funding cliff.”
“The goal of the plan all along had not been to continue these positions past two years,” Greer said. “The idea was to help students kind of get back on track, help the schools recover.”
Tina T. Lieu — a CPS parent and part of the leadership team of Cambridge Families of Asian Descent — sent out a group letter on behalf of anti-racist activist group North Cambridge Courageous Conversations last week to raise parent voices in opposition to the staffing cuts.
“There wasn’t enough time in the budget as it was scheduled for meaningful outreach and comment by the broader community,” Lieu said in an interview. “It’s almost like going to the dress rehearsal for the play and saying, no, no, I want to cut off that act.”
After a discussion with Greer and the School Committee budget chairs, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui announced in Tuesday’s meeting that the subsequent meeting would be reframed as an opportunity for more Cambridge residents to voice their opinions on the new budget.
“We reframed it from a budget workshop to being public comment and another opportunity for folks to weigh in,” Siddiqui said.
On Thursday evening, 15 Cambridge residents came before the School Committee to raise their concerns about the current budget.
Dan Monahan, president of the Cambridge Education Association, said at the Thursday meeting that temporary positions created during the pandemic became “integral” to the operations and support systems of CPS schools.
“What data besides dollars is being used to make the decision to remove these positions?” Monahan addressed the School Committee members in his public comments. “Does the evidence show that they’ve not been effective?”
During the meeting, CPS parents raised concerns over discrepancy in budget allocation between Kennedy-Longfellow School and other CPS elementary schools.
The current proposal allocates a lower budget and fewer resources for Kennedy-Longfellow School in the upcoming fiscal year, including reduction of two classrooms and 4 staff members. The general fund is reduced by approximately $220,000 compared to the current year.
A document responding to the reduction concerns on the CPS website states that budget allocation should be compared on a “per student basis.” Kennedy-Longfellow School will receive “the highest per student funding,” reflecting the “highest percentage of high needs students” in the district, according to the document.
Maritza Soto, a CPS parent, said the district needs to provide more “transparency on how the disparity in per pupil spending is justified.”
Pointing to the lowest professional development and close to lowest school improvement allocation, Soto said the figures “don’t reflect the level of support required” by Kennedy-Longfellow School, which parents said has a greater proportion of high-need students.
“CPS is setting these children up to fail,” Soto said.
Another CPS parent, Adam Zeller, said his daughter has “grown an unbelievable amount academically” with support from Kennedy-Longfellow School. The school, however, is facing low performance in MCAS exams, low student attendance, and the highest percentage of chronically absent kids in the district, Zeller said.
“It will only make these problems, which are already more pronounced than other schools in the district, even worse,” Zeller added. “Ke-Lo needs more support, not less.”
School Committee member David J. Weinstein said the current budget process allows everyone to bring forward recommendations but acknowledged the difficulty in increasing awareness about the budget among concerned residents.
“I think something didn’t happen the way maybe it should, that we’re hearing this now, and not earlier in the process,” he said. “I want to make sure that we’re doing this in a way that does meet our equity goals.”
Cambridge residents expressed concerns regarding overall transparency of the budget approval process. While Monahan said he appreciates additional meetings and the timeline extension, he believes that CPS parents are “stuck in a zero-sum game.”
“Once it’s public, you are told if you add something, you have to take something else away,” Monahan said. “The status quo needs disrupting.”
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