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School Committee Divided on Add-Backs

The Committee is split on middle school guidance addition to the add-back list.

The Arlington School Committee realizes how lucky they are as they were given the opportunity to add-back positions that were thought lost after the Fiscal Year 2011 Budget was approved.

In the coming year the Arlington Public Schools are facing a $3.9 million budget deficit. But over the past six weeks, Bridge the Gap – a one-year emergency fundraiser – has accumulated over $478,000. That amount, while short of the organization's goal of $1 million, is enough to begin to add-back some positions that were originally cut.

And last night at the School Committee meeting it was announced that because of the success of the program, Bridge the Gap would be extended for another week, ending this weekend.

"The number is constantly changing in the right direction," said Marie Meteer, an Arlington Education Foundation board member and chairman of the school gap fund. "It was the most wonderful thing to be a part of this, to watch the entire town come forward and do everything they can. We know that number is the bottom and we know there's more than that in all kinds of pockets."

With the money raised, the Arlington School Committee will be adding back the following:

  • One elementary classroom teacher, which would ensure that no class has more than 27 students in a class ($50,000).
  • A world language teacher into the sixth grade at the Ottoson School, it would allow the school to offer world languages as an exploratory course, otherwise students could have too many study periods throughout their schedule ($25,000).
  • Elementary art and music teachers, which would fully restore the elementary art and music program in the elementary schools ($150,000).
  • A physical education teaching assistant to help with the increasing size of the gym classes ($15,800).
  • A part-time art teacher in the high school ($15,800).
  • Partially restore the ACE and Drama program in the middle school ($23,000).
  • Restores a library-teaching assistant in each of the elementary schools ($130,000).
  • A reading support teacher at the middle school will be added back ($25,000).

Even though the add-backs were well-received by the School Committee and from members of the community that attended last night's meeting, the debate quickly turned to what should be added back next, if the money is raised.

The next three add-backs, which were decided upon by the school principals, were the hiring of elementary physical education teachers ($175,000), math support at the middle school ($50,000) and a decrease in athletic fees at the high school ($50,000).

Many of the parents in attendance pushed for adding back a guidance counselor at the middle school, which was not on the original add-back list.

"Parents are concerned with the fact that (a guidance counselor) is going to be cut from Ottoson," said Arlington resident Nancy Lowe. "Why can't the guidance position be on the add-back list?"

A guidance counselor at Ottoson currently looks over 400 students, with the lack of an add-back, that number would balloon to 600 students.

"Having the administrative support of guidance counselors is invaluable and greatly impacts the whole school," said Arlington resident Laura Tracy. "They help with bullying; they're just an enormous resource for teachers and students."

School Committee Secretary, Cindy Starks suggested an amendment to the additional add-backs, by adding the middle school guidance counselor to the list.

Vice-Chair of the Committee, Leba Heigham, urged the committee not to go forward with adding the guidance counselor position, suggesting that the next three add-backs were at the recommendation of the principals. She also pointed out that each grade level – elementary, middle school and high school – are receiving the same add-backs, adding another to the middle school may be counterproductive.

Another concern for some of the members are athletic fees. Committee Member, Joseph Curran, who was the one member to vote against the add-back list, expressed his concern over the increasing athletic fees. He explained to the committee that a lot of students won't be able to afford to play sports; especially with the $750 it would cost to play a sport like ice hockey.

"Once we institute user fees we're told that once we get the money they'll be gone; they're never gone," Curran said. "All they do is go up."

The committee approved the passage of Starks' amendment, 4-3 with Jeffrey Thielman, Kirsi Allison-Ampe and Leba Heighman voting in the negative.

Now the committee will wait and see how much money Bridge the Gap will bring in this week, so they can begin to plan their next round of add-backs.

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