By Simone Lassar and Adam Cohen
Managing Editor of News and News Reporter
On April 8, Superintendent David Fleishman’s proposed budget for the 2017-2018 school year, promising to reduce the current $2.75 million deficit, was approved by the school’s committee vote of 8-0 with one abstention.
In an unexpected series of events, Newton Public School’s administration was forced to rework the budget halfway through the year as in beginning of the year, many services, including transportation costs, were budgeted too tightly; thus, resulting in discrepancies that accumulated to a 2.75 million dollar deficit.
This current gap in the budget remains an unusual occurrence as Newton Public Schools typically ends the year with a surplus. This year, if the administration had not made necessary cuts, the school system would have ended the year in debt.
However, with the implementation of these new cuts, the school system will end the year with a balanced budget, but have no extra money to carry over to the next school year.
For 2017, The school budget for was set at $212 million, with the budget for next year comparatively increasing by roughly 3.7 percent, to a total of about $220 million for 2018.
Although most faculty members agree the new budget remained essential for district to avoid debt, many are disappointed with the major cuts it brings, including the reduction of school funding for libraries with librarian lay offs at all school levels.
Zervas Librarian Rebecca Kinney feels that the new budget unfairly targets librarians across all levels of schools as she “feels that [the budget] targeting libraries will be a detriment to our schools. Our students need our libraries and they need our libraries fully staffed.”
Kinney says that not only will librarians face adversity, but students, as well, will undergo a loss. With a reduction in elementary school librarians much of the project based learning will suffer.
Kinney continues by comparing this loss to the difference between trained and untrained staff by contending that “professional librarians do make a difference, and we are needed at every level.”
Assistant Superintendent and Chief Financial and Administrative Officer, Liam Hurley, presents a more optimistic outlook on the cuts than Kinney.
While Hurley acknowledges that implementing cuts always presents a challenge, he feels that the “due to the prudent measures of the school committee, we will close the deficit this year.”
Hurley describes that the team struggled most with cutting programs from Newton South, given its growing enrollment as in the past year Newton North’s enrollment only increased by 18 students, compared to South’s 56 new students. Considering the large student body at South, class sizes will increase due to the difficulty of maintaining classes under 25 students without hiring more teachers.
The new budget also increases fees for activities including arts classes and sports team. This heightened fee raised concerns that students would not engage in these supplemental activities because they were unable to pay the waivers. However, Fleishman assured staff members that financial compensation would be available for such students.
In addition, the budget will increase parking passes’ fees for high school drivers. Many high school students drive to school, and thus in need of purchasing a parking pass. The current pass costs 155 dollars per semester, but next year this price will increase by 40 dollars to 195 dollars for a half year pass.
Junior Lily Sander, with the anticipation that next year she will drive herself to school, remains distressed by this influx in price due to the fact she must buy her own pass.
“With parking passes increasing by forty dollars next year, makes me wonder if it’s worth it to buy one, since they’re just too expensive,” Sander insisted.
The approved budget will also remove all seventh grade Latin classes from middle schools, along with terminating the respective teachers. A concern of South students and teachers alike remains how this reduction will affect future enrollment as the majority Latin students in high school begin their studies at the middle school level.
Finally, fourth grade chorus will also be eliminated from elementary schools; begging the same question of how this cut will affect future student participation.
While the aspects of our schools described above will suffer losses, undoubtedly the most severe cuts will be felt by the library department. Jennifer Dimmick, a librarian at South, says that the system has failed students across all levels.
“I was disappointed [about the cuts], and I know it was very self serving because obviously it affects my jobs or our jobs. But, the disappointment well and truly stems from our inability to provide a high level of service,” Dimmick said.
The proposed budget reduces librarian staffing by 20% at the high school level, and 40% across the entire library program. Dimmick feels especially frustrated that the library relatively represents a small part of the entire school budget, but a large proportion of the cut seems to be targeted at them.
Overall, even with the budget’s attempt to limit effects on student learning and preserve the integrity of Newton schools, Kinney echoes with Dimmick’s frustration and adds her own feelings of dispirit.
“Newton Public Schools holds itself on a very high standard, and to attack the library is to the detriment to our students, and it’s really a shame. I’m disheartened by it,” Kinney disclosed.