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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

EBulletin, April 10, 2022

Updated: Apr 13, 2022

Please click the image above to find the myriad ways you can participate in our "Stop the Cuts" campaign! On Friday I wrote: "Lots happening all at once, so fast it's hard to digest": Here is some of what I have digested so far: 1. The Globe called me and asked me for comments on David's retirement. In that article, I was, regrettably, quoted out of context. I was asked if I thought David had resigned to avoid running the schools in the face of controversial budget cuts. I answered with a direct and unequivocal 'no'. Contrary to the narrative that David is abandoning the schools in a very difficult time, I have enormous respect for how vigorously both he and his central administrative team are defending them. Contrary to the misguided and harmful narrative circulating in the community that under David's leadership the Newton Public Schools are spending irresponsibly, he and his team are making clear to the entire community how effectively the district is spending its resources. The problem is not profligate spending, but rather irresponsible underfunding. In that interview, I also stated my empathy with David for the challenges he has faced, particularly over the past two years of the pandemic. I also said that there are additional challenges that come from being a superintendent in the same district for twelve years. Again, contra any implication that David was abandoning the Newton Public Schools in a moment of crisis, I also said that, with a new school committee in place, I thought that this could also be a good time for change. David deserves both respect for the legacy he has left here in Newton, and empathy for the toll his work must have taken on him. It is grossly unfair to blame him either for the difficult financial circumstances the schools currently find themselves in, or for leaving the district when the times have gotten tough. Thank you David for your years of service and commitment to the Newton Public Schools. I wish you all the best as you welcome new opportunities and new challenges. And I also wish you the time and space to care for your own and your family's social and emotional well-being. 2. The mayor's allocation of additional funds, it seems very clear, came attached with directives about what should be done with them: restore intervention services in the elementary schools; academic coordinators and curriculum supports; and counseling and mental health support in middle schools and high schools. These are all extremely important programs, and they are also exactly the programs about which the mayor has been hearing a good deal of public concern. But the funding is still far short of what the district needs, and a good deal of the harm those cuts will inflect is not yet known by the public. To begin, this leaves out restoring full time Fine Arts, Theater and Music or Physical Education, Health and Wellness Coordinators. Yet the arts and physical education provide essential support to our students' social and emotional well-being. Without curricular and instructional guidance, the work of educators in these fields will suffer, as will students' experience. And the impact of the cuts will be both immediate, and, if the cuts are not restored, will continue to erode the quality of the programs. Moreover, to date, there hasn't been much communication from district leaders about the impact of budget cuts at the high school level--because they have not yet been able to assess what it will be. Class enrollment in the high schools did not close out until April 4th, so principals have not yet been able to assess the specific harm that will come from these cuts. But here are some of the tradeoffs they and their administrative teams have will have to weigh: Some harm will be unavoidable:

  • class sizes will be larger--some sections could be very large (25 to 30 or more students);

  • larger WIN intervention blocks will be less effective;

  • with fewer sections of a particular class, it will be harder to adjust students' schedules mid-year ;

  • if classes fill up, some students will not get the classes they signed up for;

  • students who move into the district and enroll in the high schools during the school year will have fewer choices.

Trade-offs that school leadership teams will have to weigh:

  • Do you continue to offer AP or Honors classes that have low enrollment?

  • Do you create large combined sections of a class, offer it only at North or South, and bus kids from one school to the other in order to continue to offer the class?

  • Do you either increase class size in College Placement classes or co-taught classes, or do you drop intervention support, because you can't do both?

  • Do you drop electives classes, knowing full well that these are vital for students' social and emotional and academic well-being?

School leaders will weigh the costs of these difficult trade-offs carefully in order to do as little harm as possible. But there will be harm, and educators will feel the burden of mitigating that harm to protect their students. 3. Last Friday, Liam Hurley sent a message to the NPS staff stating that staff had to remove signs from their windows--in response to the "Stop the Cuts," "Fund the Schools" signs that many of you had on display. As I said last Friday, after extensive consultation with MTA legal counsel, we believe this is an illegal invasion of our rights to communicate as union members, showing our opposition to the cuts and our support for further funding. Even though we appreciate how vigorously the district and the school committee have shown the harm of these cuts and the concomitant sense this brings that we are "all on the same side" on this issue, we nonetheless cannot allow this precedent to stand. Thus, we are taking two courses of action. On Monday, we will file an unfair labor practice charge with the Department of Labor Relations. However, like any legal action, this one too will take months if not a year to resolve--far too late for a decision to matter now, in this campaign. So as a second course of action, we are proposing the following: the NTA will print additional signs that state "Stop ALL the Cuts!" and "FULLY Fund the Schools" and distribute these to schools before Friday. Then, on this Thursday (April 14), we will ask members to place signs in their classroom windows. The reasoning is this: If one member refuses to take down a sign, that could result in discipline for insubordination; if most or all members do this, the district cannot discipline everyone. They could file a counter-charge against the NTA with the Department of Labor Relations. We are confident that if they do this, we will prevail. Meanwhile, if you have signs, please display them in the windshields of your car in the most visible way possible!


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