Closing a $3.1 million budget gap is never painless, but now in the weeks after those cuts were announced, many in the community are starting to take notice.
This week, one of the most notable cuts that is being discussed is the removal of the librarian from the Chelsea High School (CHS) Library.
Supt. Mary Bourque said the cuts, including the librarian, were part of the School Committee’s attempt to deal with state funding discrepancies that have been dealt to the City over the last few years. She pointed out that last year, the Schools had to cut the elementary school librarian as well.
Now, the school system is left with only two librarians at the Middle School level.
Bourque said they had to prioritize teaching and learning, as well as their turnaround plan that is already in place. When making tough decisions, the librarian at CHS was a hard, but clear, choice.
“We needed to stay close, first and foremost, to the principles that would help meet the needs of our students,” she said. “We used data and we based the decision on the data. This is our third year of budget cuts. It’s illustrative of the broken state funding formula…This year we’re cutting the librarian at the high school because of the standards we stood on. We looked at the data and circulation numbers are down. Kids at the high schools are doing a lot of research online now. There were only about nine books a day being checked out for a 1,500-student body.”
Speaking up big for the CHS librarian was fellow librarian Martha Boksenbaum, who is the Children’s Librarian at the Chelsea Public Library. She said a school librarian shouldn’t be sacrificed, especially since the librarian at the elementary school was cut last year.
“One might argue that if there isn’t a School Librarian, students can just go to the Public Library instead,” she wrote in a letter to the Record this week. “In reality a School Librarian does things the Public Library cannot possibly do. School Librarians are part of the school; they know the teachers, the teachers know them and they work together on a daily basis so School Librarians can make sure students have what they need to complete their assignments.
“Students in Chelsea deserve more than this,” she continued. “While school funding is tight and hard decisions have to be made, this is a sacrifice Chelsea High students should not have to make.”
Bourque said she did a survey and found that most schools in the area were down to one librarian districtwide. That was true in Revere, Saugus and Malden. In Winthrop, there is no librarian in the schools.
In Chelsea, they left the two middle school librarians because they also teach classes, where the elementary and high school librarians did not teach.
“Librarians are the support services for students and are necessary, but when you have to decide whether to increase class sizes by keeping the librarian or keeping class sizes at 30 and cut support services like librarians, that the choice,” she said. “We can’t cut the teachers in the classrooms.”
The school librarian was only a small part of the cuts made to the School Budget.
Other cuts included:
- Three administrative positions.
- 10 instructor positions.
- Two whole-class paraprofessionals.
- 10 one-on-one paraprofessionals.
- Discontinuation of the 5th to 8th grades Citizens Schools at the Brown Middle and Wright Middle Schools.
- Mandatory Connect Digital Lead Teacher Platform.
- Reduction in the extraordinary maintenance and technology budget.
Of all of those, Bourque said they needed to be careful about pushing off the maintenance and technology budget.
“You can only do that so many years in a row before it comes back to bite you,” she said. “We have to be careful in doing that.”
Meanwhile, Bourque said the cuts are a call for the community to unite in lobbying the entire legislature to support Senate Bill 2325, which was proposed by Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz. Bourque said that bill contains all of the fixes to make sure cuts like this wouldn’t have to happen for a fourth year in a row.
“It behooves us all to be on the same path with our advocacy,” she said.
House Budget contains pothole account to help schools like Chelsea
The House Budget passed last week by the state House of Representatives has some encouraging news regarding school financing – and word from Beacon Hill is that the funding changes will outlast any vetoes from Gov. Charlie Baker.
The House put in a $12.5 million “Pothole Account” to help districts hurt by the change in ‘Economically Disadvantaged’ definitions a few years ago. Last year, there was no such funding, but this year it looks like that money will make it through.
The money would be allocated to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and they would be charged with disbursing it to the affected district.
Supt. Mary Bourque said the pothole account in the House Budget is good news, but she hopes that there are some changes.
“First of all, $12.5 million will go fast,” she said. “I have asked Sen. Sal DiDomenico to petition that DESE isn’t in charge of disbursing that account…We need to get it passed first, but second I would like to see that DESE isn’t in charge of that money.”