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Cambridge School Volunteers, with members seen here at a training session, was one of four out-of-school partners for the school district getting more funding in the coming budget. (Photo: Cambridge School Volunteers)

Cambridge School Volunteers, with members seen here at a training session, was one of four out-of-school partners for the school district getting more funding in the coming budget. (Photo: Cambridge School Volunteers)

The School Committee unanimously passed a budget for next year that saves the Kennedy-Longfellow School’s second third-grade classroom and restores one of the two instructional technology specialists at the upper school, but leaves high school clerk cuts. Committee members Tuesday also started to lay the groundwork for things they would like to see in future budgets, key among them a “top to bottom” re-examination of the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade schools in the manner of Innovation Agenda initiative.

Members passed Superintendent Jeffrey Young’s proposed budget enthusiastically, including some modifications put forth by the superintendent in a memo to the committee Tuesday afternoon. These modifications came in response to feedback received from committee members and the public, Young said.

The proposed budget remains balanced at the $156.7 million allocated by the city manager (representing a 3.8 percent inflation increase over this year’s budget, which is what it would cost to run the current year’s budget with no changes).  All new elements in the budget are offset by cuts or savings. New initiatives funded in this budget are:

bullet-gray-small$805,000 for additional staff to meet higher enrollment levels, including more kindergarten teachers, higher program requirements legislated by the state for English-language learners and maintaining a second fourth-grade classroom at Fletcher Maynard Academy (the original proposed budget eliminated one fourth-grade classroom due to enrollment projections, but those projections have since changed and the classroom teacher was added back).

bullet-gray-small$273,000 for continued K-12 “curriculum alignment” under the office of elementary education, curriculum and instruction. In this five-year curriculum cycle, all subjects will have “fully aligned standards based curriculum” and common assessments. This includes implementation of a new K-8 math curriculum called Math in Focus and full implementation of the Response to Intervention program, which will require paying for substitute teachers to allow “teacher data meetings.”

bullet-gray-small$185,000 for increased professional development for positive classroom management, leadership development, and cultural proficiency training.

bullet-gray-small$166,000 for support to the Level 3 Schools, King Open and the Kennedy-Longfellow. This figure represented an $83,000 increase over that originally proposed by the superintendent, who recognized communications from committee members and the public in helping to make the case. The superintendent was moved to maintain a second third-grade teacher at Kennedy-Longfellow due to be cut because went classroom projections for that grade went below 26 students, but the classroom is being kept to help support the school’s improvement plan. In addition, $45,000 (up from $25,000) will be combined with state funds and other program support to help target instruction and student support at these schools.

bullet-gray-small$91,000 toward implementing family engagement recommendations and hiring a part-time “communications director.” Originally proposed as the creation of two districtwide family engagement and communications director positions, these funds were augmented and reconfigured. They will continue with the part-time communications/marketing director, but are shifting from a districtwide family engagement hire to adding a “bilingual liaison” for sheltered English-immersion families at the Graham & Parks and Vassal Lane Upper schools. The remaining funds will assist existing central staff to support family engagement issues.

bullet-gray-small$89,000 to provide full-time librarians for the eight shared elementary and upper schools and part-time instructional technology specialists for the upper schools. Recognizing the response of committee members and the public to the proposed cut of two full-time upper school instructional technology specialists, the superintendent compromised by restoring one full-time equivalent technology specialist to be shared by the four upper schools. Explaining that “the future is moving towards a merged library/technology specialist,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Jessica Huizenga said eventually there will not be the need for the supplemental technology specialists. Simmons College, on the forefront of this combined education, “has already graduated their first cohort” of these professionals, she said, but in the meantime Cambridge will ease the transition with quarter-time instructional technical support at each upper school.

bullet-gray-small$75,000 for after-school and summer programs for providing more support for the new seventh- and eighth-grade dual math pathways. This accompanies a policy change enacted last month to create accelerated and regular math programs for these students, a move away from “differentiated instruction” in which all students are taught together.

bullet-gray-small$66,000 for a long-awaited reorganization of special education services by new Assistant Superintendent Victoria Greer, moving from a staff structure based on compartmentalizing different aspects of special education services to one that integrates special and general education.

bullet-gray-small63,000 to hire a Spanish teacher for the Fletcher Maynard Academy.

bullet-gray-small$40,000 to increase diversity among staff through a partnership with a 20-year old nonprofit program, Today’s Students/Tomorrow’s Teachers.

The $1.6 million increase will be paid for by significant savings expected from paying less tuition for out-of-district student placement (due largely to the development of a successful in-district autism program), savings from retirements and savings from early retirement incentives for four high school clerical positions.

The Beyond the 4th Wall all-ages theater group benefits from increased funding in the next school district budget. (Photo: Beyond the 4th Wall)

The Beyond the 4th Wall all-ages theater group benefits from increased funding in the next school district budget. (Photo: Beyond the 4th Wall)

A significant change to the proposed budget was an additional $70,000 provided off budget by the city manager to augment support to four out-of-school partners: Cambridge School Volunteers ($25,000), Tutoring Plus ($10,000), Breakthrough ($17,000) and Beyond the 4th Wall ($18,000) were given increased funding. City Manager Richard C. Rossi is funding this through a projected end-of-year surplus and has promised to find a way to include the amount in next year’s school department allocation, Young said. Noting that trying to determine appropriate funding levels to these and other valuable out-of-school partners is difficult, Young proposed that the committee try to develop guidelines for next year toward “stronger protocol and policy.” Currently it is an ad hoc process in which the school department responds to various requests from partners without a clear method for evaluating them.

The elimination of high school clerk positions drew much protest, including a new petition presented by a Cambridge Rindge and Latin’s committee student representative, Emily Gray, signed by 183 students, staff and parents. In response, the superintendent assured Gray that “nobody who wants to remain working on the payroll will be asked to leave.” Committee member Fred Fantini said later that while the opportunity for “early opt-out” retirement can benefit some, “a part of me hopes that a year from now we will realize the error of our ways and the clerks get put back.”

The increased support for Level 3 schools – deemed underperforming from MCAS standardized test results – was welcomed by many of the committee members, but as budget subcommittee co-chairman Richard Harding put it, “it’s not just the Level 3 schools.” Cambridge has six Level 2 schools, and “attention has to be paid there too,” he said, pointing out that several principals’ contract will be up for renewal and should be carefully reviewed.

The high amount of professional development for teachers next year also brought attention. Particularly, committee members were concerned about the burden on the teachers and the time they will need to be out of the classroom and relying on substitute teachers. Huizenga responded that they are trying to be very sensitive to these issues and are working with a joint committee on professional development of staff and administration to map out a comprehensive professional development calendar to coordinate requirements and have effective implementation.

“Nobody wants to see teachers out of the classroom for a lot of time,” she said. She has already worked with staff to bring professional development time for implementing the new Math in Focus program down to 18 hours from her original estimate of 24.

The committee also heard more concrete information about Math in Focus as math director Mark Healey gave feedback on this year’s pilot program. He cited anecdotal accounts of teachers that the program allowed them to raise the bar for their kids, and said that they have found that students are meeting the accelerated math pathway with curriculum materials that support struggling and accelerated learners. During public comment, a math coach from one of the pilot schools also praised the “particularly well-designed” support materials for a wide range of students, and said she found the problems rigorous. Although there has been no formal study of the impact of the pilot program, the administration is clearly optimistic the program is an improvement.

Finally, the committee started setting the stage for future budgets. A motion was made and accepted to begin forming a task force to undertake a comprehensive review of the JK-5 programs, much as was done the middle schools. Fantini’s motion included looking particularly at world language, the impact of the common core and the possibilities of increased art, music and instructional time. Committee member Fran Cronin prioritized trying to get out ahead of technology issues, which she pointed out affect not just curriculum and learning but buildings and space. She also emphasized including city planning issues into the overview to measure the likely impact of increased housing development on future school enrollment.

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