Trend toward self-segregation in schools worries committee members
Nothing much seemed to happen Tuesday with the School Committee, but there was a lot going on, and some of it was downright disturbing.
At the committee spent a lengthy meeting laying groundwork for major and somewhat overlapping items, including a reworking of its budget process and preparations for an enrollment increase, there were also concerns over how race and income levels are affecting student distribution and a look into what underlies transfers between Cambridge elementary schools.
Much of this arose from raw data on enrollment and demographics presented by the school system’s chief operating officer, Jim Maloney. Committee members seemed intrigued but bemused by the arbitrary nature of the slides and Maloney’s narration, pointing out, for instance, that students at the Amigos School are scattered evenly around the city, while Cambridgeport School students are clustered around the campus; that 43 percent of sixth-graders lived west of Harvard Square and 57 percent to the east; or that 97 students transferred out of the Kennedy-Longfellow School between June 2007 and August 2009, while only 18 left Graham & Parks in the same period.
After a more extensive look at transfers in general, committee member Joe Grassi spoke about the presentation.
“I’d love to see an executive summary,” he said.
But Grassi knew what he was seeing without an executive summary: “There’s no way that many transfers should be happening,” he said. Using Cambridge’s method of controlled choice for schools, “people are self-segregating themselves” by race and class.
In addition to stressing his concerns about racial and socioeconomic isolation, he raised repeatedly his concerns that there were “too many schools and too few students. No one wants to say it … but we need to understand that and figure out where we’re going in the next few years.” With five schools with fewer than 300 students, there are classes of only a dozen people, which Grassi felt hurt children socially and educationally.
“It’s not financially feasible, and it’s not educationally sound,” he said.
Enrollment is projected to rise — up almost 400 three school years from now, from a current 6,146 students districtwide — but it will take eight years to fill the city’s schools, Grassi said.
On the less disturbing side of things, the committee began looking at how to put into action changes in budgeting introduced by the new schools superintendent, Jeff Young. Rather than having the committee approve a budget at the end of the process, Young wants members involved from the beginning to help set priorities.
A draft on how this would work was introduced by committee member Marc McGovern and rejected, but not necessarily torn up, in favor of a group discussion to be held Dec. 1. “I’ve got to believe that’s going to be our starting point,” member Fred Fantini said of McGovern’s draft.
The panel will vote Dec. 15 on whether to accept the new process.