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Shrewsbury School Committee to hold annual budget hearing

oakmidsch2006.jpg.w300h199SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – The Shrewsbury School Committee has issued the press release excerpted below, indicating that they will hold a public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2014 School Department Budget on Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7pm in the Oak Middle School Auditorium.

“In late January, Superintendent of Schools, Joseph Sawyer, presented a recommended budget of $54,279,004 for the next fiscal year.  This represents a $4.4 million, or 8.85%, increase over the current year’s appropriation.  Dr. Sawyer indicated that this budget plan represents “what it would take to maintain our program, address key needs, and begin recovering from the impact of the cuts the district has sustained in recent years.”  Those cuts included the reduction of 32 teaching and support positions in the current year, which has resulted in class sizes well above the district’s guidelines in the vast majority of classrooms across the district.
Shrewsbury Town Manager, Daniel Morgado, has released his initial budget recommendation, which included an additional $355,213, or a 0.71% increase, for the School Department.  This leaves a gap of over $4 million between his recommendation and the superintendent’s recommendation.  The Shrewsbury School Committee invites community members to attend the budget hearing in order to provide feedback regarding the School Department budget so that they can better understand the community’s priorities regarding public education.  All School Department budget materials are posted on the district web site at http://schools.shrewsbury-ma.gov.”
The realities of the information contained in the formal press release above are, perhaps, far more dire than one might first imagine.  While the initial $4.4 Million estimate proposed by Dr. Sawyer presented a wish list of things which are needed to begin some recovery from the grossly understaffed situation we are currently in, there are still fixed, non-negotiable cost increases that are going to be there in the coming year whether we like it or not.  Those include contractual salary raises, increases in special education funding, and other such fixed costs which must be taken into account. Based on my cursory look at some of the internal figures available on the website shown above, it will take well over $1 – 1.5 million in increased appropriation, just to break even with where we are now. If the town managers initial proposal holds true, and only 300K+- of that is available, the rest will likely have to be made up in further cuts in programming, or staffing.  That’s one reason why I feel this upcoming hearing is going to be important, and hope that more people will try to attend this year, and hopefully bring up some concrete solutions to the problems that we face.  Those solutions are not easy to come by.  I’ve made quite a few, which I outlined in a recent memo I sent to the committee, but there is no silver bullet, and the answer lies not in one thing, but rather in a combination of different, novel approaches, that enable us to provide the highest possible level of service to our students, without further monetary expenditures.
Usually, I have found that these hearings are predominated by teachers, parents, students and others giving impassioned pleas about how class sizes are too high, and that lamenting that it’s impossible to deliver the level of education we’ve come to expect in that situation.  The challenge, of course, is not that they’re wrong, but rather that they’re preaching to the choir.  Everyone in that room already knows that class sizes are too high, and everyone in the room wants more teachers, more funding, and better programming.  The challenge is how to do all of that within the finite confines of the funds that are available, and that will only happen by bringing up discussion of new and innovative ideas.  It has been said that if you do an experiment the same way over and over again, the odds of getting a different result are non-existent.
I know that one answer I had proposed was to do more to leverage technology, and take advantage of the countless online learning opportunities which exist.  Clearly we would not be the first…or even the second or third district to explore such a concept.  In fact, it’s being done all the time, across America, as districts struggle with the issue of paying for education in a challenging economy.  It is for this reason that I had proposed the creation of an innovation task force, which would explore these opportunities and report back to the School Committee on how we can adopt these methods starting in September, and thus being able to allocate our teaching FTE’s in a way that would put them where they are needed the most.
Here’s an interesting presentation on the subject, discussing both the benefits and limitations of such innovative practices, and the many ways in which is can be integrated into the existing classroom environment. http://ctl.sri.com/news/ImplicationsOnlineLearning2.pdf
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