School Budget cuts would mean layoffs and fewer, larger classes

The Belmont School Committee met Tuesday evening to discuss budget options for FY 2010 and possible cuts to school programs in the event that the town does not pass an operational override to patch a structural deficit in the town’s budget and make up for lost local aid from the state.

First the good news: The town has finally completed federally mandated safety changes to the drain at the High School’s Higginbottom pool, which is open again for public use.

In other good news, generous parents have donated $10,000 to the Wellington School for use towards the purchase of technology.

Now for everything else:

School Committee kicked off Tuesday’s meeting with a discussion of the decision by  Butler Elementary principal Bruce McDonald to leave his position. The School Committee will be meeting with the faculty and parents to gauge their response and start talking about a replacement.

Much of the rest of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of possible cuts to school programs for FY 2010. For parents interested in voicing concerns about the budget, there will be a public forum to discuss the school budget on February 4th in the Chenery Auditorium. Residents and, especially, Town Meeting members are especially invited to attend.

The School Committee made clear that, on the town’s current fiscal course, deep cuts to school programs will be inevitable in FY 2010.  Some of the worst case scenarios include:

  • Elimination of elective courses at the High School level (creative writing and public speaking were mentioned)
  • Elimination of AP courses (such as Latin) at the High School
  • The elimination of JV sports
  • The elimination of elementary science education
  • Steep cuts across the board in spending for supplies and book purchases
  • Curtailing or loss of laboratory science courses
  • Steep increase in use fees for all sports

Various remedies and cost cutting ideas were discussed. These include increased use of fees to support some functions. The idea of “virtual high school” with online learning programs was floated, but the upfront costs of providing such an option ($10,000 for a 25 person online course) were not felt to be cost effective for the town in the current environment.

School Committee member Ann Rittenburg inquired about the possibility of increasing the teaching load for Directors from one class to two.

Interim Superintendent Pat Aubin said that “everything is on the table,” and that the School Dept. is considering that measure to lessen the impacts of layoffs. However, doing so would eat in to other responsibilities they have, especially those that aren’t mandated by law, such as curriculum and instruction supervision. “This will hurt at the elementary level because the directors may be able to get to the Middle School but wouldn’t have the time to influence the elementary school,” she said.

At the High School level, the goal with any cuts is to protect graduation required courses, cutting everything else that isn’t necessary. That may mean no elective courses for students and the elimination of campus monitors, resulting in a so-called “open campus” in which students who don’t have courses can come and go at will.

“We need to make sure the public is educated on how drastic these cuts are and the impact it will have on our children,” said School Committee member Leslie Walker. “How can we make sure the public can find out?”

“The public shouldn’t be under the illusion that their kids will be prepared for the future because there will be drastic cuts in quality without additional resources,” said Rittenburg.

Here are some breakdowns by subject area:

English/Language Arts:

  • A total of 7 sections lost, translating into increased class sizes at the High School and cuts to staff at the Middle School that result in teaching loads of 110 students per teacher, from the current 90.
  • A reduction of 1.25 positions at the Middle School, which will likely result in the loss of an English teacher
  • A reduction of 1.4 positions at the High School that will translate into the termination of elective courses in creative writing and public speaking.
  • Non salary cuts of 20%, which will translate into steep cuts in budget for supplies.

Foreign Language Study

  • French and Spanish classes will be larger with a .6 employee cut at Middle School.
  • A high School employee will be cut by 1 FTE (full time equivalent) and class sizes are already challenging.
  • BHS already lacks enough teachers to run AP French. Further cuts would reduce teaching supplies by 20%. The budget for books would be zeroed out. The AP Latin course will be canceled and replaced with  a 4th year course.

A note: students who would have taken AP French this year already have to take classes elsewhere (at Harvard Extension School and online) at their own expense. It was noted that some colleges require 4 years of a language– a requirement that Belmont Public Schools would not enable students to meet for some languages should these cuts go through. It’s also unclear what the status of elementary school language programs


The elimination of 2.5 FTEs at the Middle School means the loss of an MCAS support program for 5 – 7th grade students (100 of them)based on their MCAS performance.In the mathematics arena, under the recommended budget we will lose one staff member. The Everyday Math Program, which uses a journal that runs over 6K for each grade level, would be replaced with a text book that can be used for several years. The budget crisis might be used to adopt a new math curriculum such as a “fast math” software based program that does individualized instruction and skill building? (Is it really the time to drop $13k on skill building software?!?!)

For Science & Technology Education

Removing one FTE  that would affect AP Chemistry and 2nd level physics which are two courses that round out the program. Low enrollment electives would also be cut.

Suggestions were made to “prevent students from taking additional science classes,” and to “stop teaching science at the elementary schools.” That “the teachers aren’t trained in science and they already have to teach literacy in growing class sizes.”  Another option is to increase class sizes and shifting from lab to lecture format — a move that would be sure to make it harder to attract qualified science teachers.

Social Studies

Social Studies textbooks date back to 1995. The town is interested in getting a school-wide software program that has applications in all the different subjects. With the current budget, the school would lose 3.25 FTE, including a 5th grade SS teacher at the Chenery resulting in larger class sizes, less engaging lessons and ess time for customized home communication. 1 FTE would be lost at the High School which will impact the SS electives. Kids that want non-history such as psychology, economics (AP), Modern problems in global politics, and Human Service Program would be cut, meaning that the graduation requirement of 40 hours of service per student would also need to change.

Physical Education

Jim Davis said that salary step increases mean that non-salary cuts would be steep: all JV sports will be cut (a move that will require another FTE to come on board at the school since the afterschool sports programs count for the phys ed requirements, and no JV will result in increased phys ed enrollment.)  Increased fees would put sports out of reach for anyone whose family couldn’t afford to pay. The elimination of JV programs mean only the best athletes will have the opportunity to play for the town.

“It’s counterintuitive on so many levels to pull out all these programs,” said Rittenburg. “But we don’t have the public funds to support it when we can’t afford to possibly lose it. What are we going to do?”