Deep Cuts For 2012: Art, Music, Language Instruction Axed

The School Department at its meeting on Tuesday outlined the cuts to existing programs that would have to be made in 2012 to live within an “available funds” budget, as laid out by the Warrant Committee, Belmont’s financial oversight committee — around $40.6 million for 2012. And let me tell you: they aren’t pretty. But here goes:

Elementary Schools – Art, Music, Phys Ed whacked, Two teachers laid off.

At the elementary school level, the School Department said on Tuesday that the available funds budget would require the elimination of both art and music instruction as well as the elimination of two full time teachers. Physical education instruction would be cut by 50% and there would be reduced levels of service for areas like reading, nursing, tutoring, clerical support, as well as supplies, textbooks and equipment. The elmentary library program – eliminated in the FY2011 budget – would not be restored.

Middle School: Foreign language instruction and three teacher positions gone

At the Middle School level, the biggest cuts proposed to meet the available funds target would be a reduction of three full time teaching positions and the elimination of foreign language instruction for grades 5 and 6. Middle school intramural sports, including cross country, will be eliminated. Beyond that, there will be a slew of service reductions: fine arts electives, tutoring and instructional support as well as supplies like text books and materials needed by teachers.

High School: Reduced graduation requirements, elimination of foreign language and social studies electives

Planned changes at the High School include the elimination of foreign language electives and social studies electives as well as the elimination of library aide and instructional aide positions, reduced supplies including textbooks and equipment. Freshmen sports will not be restored, though its unclear whether there will be other cuts to athletic programs.

District: curriculum director positions, instructional support positions and clerical positions eliminated

At the district level, the cuts will require the elimination of curriculum director positions – these are folks who help make sure that, say, math or foreign language is taught consistently across the district and who work on improving instruction and insuring quality instruction in the classroom. Curriculum director positions for foreign language, science and social studies are on the chopping block here. The central office staff will be further reduced (the public schools already jettisoned the critical Human Resources position last year).

I don’t think its overstating things to say that this “available funds” budget is the final leg in the stool that’s supporting what has been considered one of the finest and top performing school districts in the state – and even the country. The cuts to elementary music are an especially bitter pill to swallow. Belmont’s elementary music education program has been the jewel in the crown for the town for much of the past thirty years and our students regularly return from state- and national tournaments with awards and accolades – the product of superior music education that starts at an early age (third grade). This budget effectively ends that proud tradition, eliminating funding for elementary music education – which is already supported, in part, by fees – altogether.

The available funds budget is a disgrace and underscores, only more deeply, the need for the Belmont Board of Selectmen to put a Proposition 2 1/2 Override Question on the Town-wide ballot in April. Anything less than that would be an utter betrayal of working families in this town that rely on the public schools and the programs they provide, and who can hardly afford to reach into their pockets for yet more parental “use taxes” in the form of activities fees. Enough!

Fortunately, the Warrant Committee meeting at which this budget was to be presented was postponed due to the blizzard on Wednesday. I will let you know when that is rescheduled. We’ll need a big turnout of school supporters to make it clear to the powers that be that the “available funds” math doesn’t add up for families in this town.