COVID-19 Impacts on our School Budget as of June 17th
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
This year, we are facing a $3.5 million budget cut to the school budget as of right now. I've talked elsewhere about how underfunded I believe our schools are in regular times. To be clear, though, this $3.5 million cut is entirely due to COVID. The School Committee and Superintendent cannot direct city funding. Only the Mayor with the approval of the City Council can do that. Given the current directives, the schools must figure out how to make this cut. As of Monday, the Superintendent shared her high-level plan, which includes 700K in supply and other non-staff reductions, and reductions of four administrators, six non-union staff, four secretaries, 25 teachers, one paraprofessional, and seven retirement positions. SHE IS STILL 500k AWAY FROM GETTING TO $3.5m IN CUTS. This cut will take our already slim operation and make things worse. The Superintendent has stated that she is working tirelessly to make these cuts in a way that is as far away from students as possible. So she's looking at things like where enrollment projections for next year warrant a change in staffing count without making class sizes too big. “Too big” is defined in our teacher contract, so the parameters on this are clear. We all are anxious to know precisely what the cuts will look like, and you heard that in my comments on Monday as well. There are a million questions and assumptions floating around social media on this. I said to a friend last night that as much as it feels impossible right now, we need to be patient.
Because the truth is that we have no information that says that this is the full totality of the cut. Federal and State aid has not been determined yet. It could be better, and it could be worse. As it stands, Medford is substantially planning to drain its own rainy day fund so that the $3.5M isn't worse. There are similar issues on the city side, based on what we've heard so far. I believe the Mayor when she says she's trying to mitigate this, and when she says the cuts are coming from literally everywhere. There will be virtually no department in the city untouched. She is working around the clock to deliver the City Council a draft budget for the city side today. The Council will begin their hearings in the next few days. Watch these hearings closely. I believe the first may be held as soon as Saturday. Again, whatever she delivers today will likely change when local aid is finally released from the State.
It is also worth pointing out that this cut does not take into account that school will be more expensive to operate in the fall than it ever has been. We don't know what this even looks like yet, but it is sure to be more expensive. We do know that we will require more of our teachers than ever before and that we will have heightened urgency to address the social-emotional needs of our children as they, too, have been impacted by this pandemic. Already we've authorized purchases of Chromebooks for students in anticipation of the need to continue distance learning in some form or another using grant funding. But the current estimates are that school will cost at least a million dollars more than usual in the fall.
So this brings me to Monday's pink slips. Our contract with the teachers union requires that pink slips are issued by June 15th each year. The Superintendent has the power and discretion to issue pink slips for any teacher that is in years 1-3 with Medford. In some districts, it's a matter of routine that EVERY teacher in this category gets pink-slipped each year. This has not been a recent practice in Medford. For the last few years, pink slips have been issued to those teachers that truly won't return to MPS, but today she had to take a different approach.
Based on the numbers above, I'd estimate that lots of staff who received pink slips will be called back. (Per the Superintendent’s current plan, she anticipates that 25 will be truly laid off. So, 111-25=86 could mean that 86 teachers are called back). But the numbers can and likely will change. And until we know what we are dealing with, the Superintendent can't complete this callback process. I wish I could fix this. But that's not where we are. So I'll say this:
To all our teachers: THANK YOU. As a district, we have plenty of opportunities to improve our distance learning plans (something I care deeply about), but the best of what we've accomplished since March is because of our talented teachers. Thank you to every teacher who gave of themselves in new ways, learned how to navigate an upside-down world, to wipe the tears of our students from afar, to partner with parents, and to continue to be the rock that our students need. Thank you for doing this when your own lives were completely upended.
To those teachers who received a pink slip on Monday: I am sorry that we are here. Nobody wants this. Please know that among our new teachers are some of our brightest rising stars. My children have been lucky to have many talented teachers during their time so far, and our new teachers are no exception. Thank you for your fresh eyes, your energy, and your dedication. This year has been the worst I can remember, and I'm sorry your school year ended with a pink slip. I am committed to doing what I can to move the callback process as quickly as possible so that we can give answers to you. You deserve this.
This situation is BAD. The Superintendent has stated that she is working very hard to keep these cuts as far away from the classroom and kids as she possibly can, and I believe her. I also know that this moment doesn't feel like we’re set up for success on that front. I am just ill about what all this means for our district and those that received pink slips. I know that not knowing in all of this is devastating. I am devastated too. There are no good choices here. I promise that I will do my very best to make the least bad choices and to drive communications to the community as the plan unfolds.
I am repeatedly asked, "What can I do" by worried residents and parents. It's a tough question to answer. Here are some suggestions:
Share your priorities for our city budget with the Mayor and your questions with the City Council. Please assume that the amount of money available is fixed (because right now it is). The Mayor and City Council can reallocate funds, but they don't have a money tree. Contact information is available here: email@example.com, links for City Council, links for School Committee.
Call our federal delegation and urge them to pass COVID Stimulus for cities and towns. Call your friends and family in red states and urge them to call their U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives too. Our Massachusetts delegation sees the need, but they need support on all sides of the aisle to pass this. Senator Elizabeth Warren: 202-224-4543, Senator Edward Markey: (Local) 617-565-8519 or (DC) 202-225-2836, US Representative Katherine Clark: (202) 225-2836
Call or write our state delegation and urge them to pass a budget that uses the State's rainy day fund to preserve local aid, Chapter 70 funds for schools, and the Student Opportunity Act. Please encourage them to support progressive taxation that calls on our millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share of taxes to raise revenues permanently. Senator Pat Jehlen: firstname.lastname@example.org. Representative Christine Barber: Christine.Barber@mahouse.gov. Representative Paul Donato: email@example.com. Representative Sean Garballey: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenny Graham is a member of the Medford School Committee. This blog represents her thoughts on issues of interest and does not reflect any official position of the City of Medford or the Medford School Committee. Meeting minutes, which are the public record of all meetings can be found here. Full recordings of meetings of the School Committee can be found here.