Speech to City Council, June 8, 2010
Good evening, my name is Jackie Doherty and I live at 77 Tyler Park. I am a member of the Lowell School Committee and no stranger to this council as I have come before you each year for the past seven years, asking for adequate resources to educate the children of our community. Tonight, I would like to start by thanking this council and the city manager for exceeding the state’s minimum education spending requirement last year, and for the city manager’s current proposed budget, which also exceeds the minimum requirement and increases the city’s contribution to its schools. Since 2006, the city has continued to get closer to the minimum requirement the state has established for this community, and last year was the first time in 17 years that the city met its required contribution.
The history is important to note because it puts into context the magnitude of cuts your school district has experienced through the last seven years: more than 400 positions eliminated and hundreds of staff laid off, representing many programs and educational opportunities lost for our children: preschool transportation, elementary summer school, after school programs in 7 0f 12 sites, science, reading and health teachers, and on and on from reductions in textbook and technology funding to increased class sizes.
On top of all those cuts, the school budget before you represents an additional $4 million that will eliminate all librarians in the district, 19 paraprofessionals, reading and math resource teachers, 10 instructional technology specialists, 13 teachers at the high school, as well as cutting one third of the athletics and activities budgets. These cuts come after cutting $8 million last year. We are barely holding on to core instruction, and are committed to keeping art, music and physical education in our schools, as well as not charging students to play sports, but make no mistake, this cuts will impact the quality of education we provide.
I am proud of our school system and you should be too. Despite the challenges many of our children face and the reductions we have seen in programming and staff, our students outperform their urban peers across the state. Last year, Lowell schools ranked number one for large urban districts in student growth in mathematics and number three in English Language Arts. Their achievements are significant and proof that we are doing a good job of educating our children. We will not, however, be able to continue that progress if we are forced to decimate our schools.
I understand times are tough and we must all tighten our belts. Believe me, the district is working very hard to find savings wherever we can that will not harm student learning, and we will continue in that effort. But as much as we appreciate the city’s recent increases in school funding, I am here to tell you that it is not enough. It does not close our deficit, especially since the $4 million in cuts we have made already are too close to the bone.
The city manager’s proposed budget has no layoffs on the city side, and many are receiving salary increases. When the school district is laying off more than 60 people on top of hundreds who have gone before, how is that fair? More importantly, given the last seven years of continued school cuts, how is it prudent?