School budget cuts for phys ed, French criticized again
Updated 6:04 am, Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Landon's spending package would save a total of approximately $165,000 next year by scaling back physical education programming to two 30-minute classes each week for students in grades one through five and eliminating French-language instruction for sixth graders at the town's two middle schools.
The board took no votes on the spending plans for the new fiscal year Monday. Landon's proposed budget is about 2.5 percent higher than this year's budget of approximately $98 million.
Landon has argued that programming changes for elementary physical education and middle school French would lead to more effective structuring of class time by facilitating longer periods of instruction through "block scheduling."
Several elementary school principals spoke Monday in support of Landon's block scheduling plan.
"You really do need to at least structure some solid chunks of time," said Kings Highway Elementary Principal Susie Da Silva. "Teachers need to have time with their core group ... in order to put in some of those things we want them to put into place."
Landon, however, acknowledged that fiscal constraints were also driving his push for the French and physical education cuts. The superintendent and education board members have repeatedly cautioned in recent weeks that non-essential spending would likely be slashed by the Board of Finance or the Representative Town Meeting. Both of those town bodies will review and vote on the education budget before a final version is adopted this spring for the new fiscal year that starts July 1.
"We have grabbed all the low-hanging fruit, and the orchard is bare," Landon said. "We get to a point where there is no place to go. We can cut all the maintenance, we can cut out all the building projects, we can let the parking lots rot ... I think we've gotten to the point where we're in grave danger."
Several school board members however, questioned Landon's approach to clamping down on expenditures.
"The way I look at it -- take your pick -- this is death by a thousand cuts," Michael McGovern said. "We're going to get to whatever bad place we're going to get to, one way or another. But do we start doing it in a classroom? I don't think that's a great idea."
Many of the parents who spoke Monday argued passionately against Landon's proposal to cut physical education time for elementary school students.
"We teach our children what we as a society value by what we choose to emphasize," Lynn Sachs said. "By not including physical activity at school, you are showing our children that we do not value physical activity as a community."
Another parent, Sarah Adair, offered an alternative to the superintendent's proposed $140,000 physical education cut. "At the risk of being chased out of here with pitchforks and torches, I'd rather you raise my taxes than cut any of this," she said.
The superintendent's proposal to cut sixth-grade French -- a plan that would also entail eliminating instruction of the language in seven- and eighth-grade levels in subsequent years -- also elicited a doubtful response from several parents.
"I'm concerned about what's going to happen later on," said Tracy Boyce. "What happens in high school? I don't think a whole lot of people are just going to decide, `I'm going to start French now.'"
As the meeting progressed, school board members also indicated dissatisfaction with steps to rein in spending.
But, said Mark Mathias, "The times that we live in are causing us to have to make decisions that none of us really like."
The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on Landon's proposed 2012-13 budget at its next meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6, in Staples High School.