Our children deserve more, not less
Dear members of the Salem School Committee,
We are parents of the Salem public school community and we firmly believe that our children deserve more from their schools, not less. Our children need to be challenged, inspired and supported in their learning, and that cannot - and will not - happen if we solve this year's budget gap by cutting classroom teachers.
Our teachers are on the front line of our schools. They conceive of, develop and implement programs that teach our children the skills they will need to succeed after high school. They spend their own money on supplies to improve their classrooms and engage our children. They attend professional development sessions at night, on weekends and over summer vacation to improve and strengthen their teaching skills. District leaders may have developed the community's turnaround plan, but our teachers are the ones implementing it, school by school, classroom by classroom, student by student.
We recognize that Salem is currently facing an enormous budget gap, and that some cuts and difficult choices need to be made. But we challenge the logic behind the current proposal to cut 17.6 teachers across the district. Cutting our teachers will slow our progress significantly, and perhaps reverse it. This puts our district, our schools and our children at the losing end of this complicated debate, when in reality other options have not been fully considered.
There are many numbers on the FY2016 Budget Reduction grid, but the two that concern us most are the high number of teachers on the chopping block for a savings of $1,038,698 vs. the relatively small number of Central Office staff being considered for reduction - just 6.5 - for a savings of $460,000. This plan unfairly places the burden of closing our budget gap squarely on the educators we need more of in our schools: our teachers.
We recommend that the School Committee take a step back before approving these cuts, and instead consider other options that will have a lesser impact on student learning. We respectfully request that the School Committee reconsider the recommended distribution of cuts and engage in a proactive discussion about other options including:
1. Increasing the overall cut to the Central Office to assume a greater percentage of the budget gap
2. Moving Salem Prep back to Collins Middle School, saving the district costly rental fees
3. Cutting the city-wide volunteer coordinator and leaning more heavily on school-based volunteers
4. Engaging community partners like the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem State University and the YMCA in a discussion to find ways they can help to build our capacity with additional resources and/or supports
5. Negotiating with Footprint for a monetary commitment to the public schools
6. Reducing or eliminating A-net and prioritizing teaching over testing
7. And as a last resort, renegotiating the teacher contract to delay the expected salary increase by at least one year
It is unfortunate that we are in this position, and that the district did not prepare for this budget shortfall. Given the end of both Race to the Top and our School Improvement Grant, there should have been more advanced planning done to build our capacity and ensure that we could sustain the work our community has begun over the past several years. We recognize that you as School Committee members are left to make difficult choices in which someone, ultimately, will lose. We just ask that you do whatever is in your power to make sure that the losers in this case are not our children.