...budgets are not merely affairs of arithmetic, but in a thousand ways go to the root of the prosperity of individuals, the relation of classes, and the strength of kingdoms.
John Morely, writing in The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. 1
...which of course is just a fancier way of saying "budgets are moral documents."
This is probably the weakest year I've ever had for blogging the Worcester Public Schools budget usual warning: it's 444 pages, so that's a big document), for which you all have my abject apologies. FY23 started yesterday--yes, happy fiscal new year!--and I did want to take a look at what it is that the Worcester School Committee passed last month for this coming year.
This is a long post, but then, the budget is long, too.
As I have already said, though, what we did in June isn't the end of the story: we had a budget proposed by an outgoing administration without input from the incoming administration (which would have come late, in any case, due to when hiring happened), so I fully expect changes. I also think this led to the only disagreement the Committee had during budget deliberation; I would say that we agree on outcomes, but we disagreed over short-term, how to get there.
I'm going to embed both budget deliberation videos here; it's about four hours all told.
A question I got shortly after the budget passed was "what does this budget do for my family?" which I think can be a useful framing, so let's look a bit at that.
First, I think it's crucial to note that we have increased special education and English learner departments over the past number of years, and this is where I think charts (yay, charts!) are helpful; here's what teacher positions have done in the past couple of years in those sections:
So an over fifty teacher increase in special education this year and last,
Note: this is not a complaint! The Worcester Public Schools have stayed solidly at about 20% of our students receiving special education services for years, and our population of students who are English learners has bounced around about a third of our student enrollment also for years. This is part of what I meant when I said back in February when we set budget priorities that we needed to do what we're responsible for doing. This is part of what we're responsible for doing.
(Side note: we can look at how effectively we do it, of course, and I will not be surprised at all if we do that this coming year.)
On elementary students, a thing that this budget continues that is, I think, largely invisible to families that nonetheless MATTERS, is the number of elementary teachers this budget has. The budget document uses the word "maintains" for 601 elementary teachers (the full number is 816 in the budget line). You might remember that one change the School Committee made last year was moving literacy specialist positions to elementary teaching positions, out of concern not only for students' academic needs, but their social-emotional ones. We did that, and this budget maintains that, despite a DROP in elementary enrollment both years. That keeps our class size at an average of 19.6 (and that's actual class size, not one of those bogus "how many adults are in the buildings" numbers; we don't fudge this). On page 17, you can find a rundown of what this is estimated to look like for classrooms:
That choice in budget--it's ESSER funding bridging to Student Opportunity Act implementation funding--translating to a choice in staffing obviously makes a huge difference in student experience, and I think it's important that we ensure it is VISIBLE to families.
I do want to note that I asked about paraprofessionals in kindergarten classrooms: specifically, we're only 12 classrooms short of having a para in every kindergarten, so why didn't administration just close the gap? You can watch this exchange at about 52 minutes in on the second budget deliberation; I...didn't feel as if I really got an answer other than it just didn't happen.
At the secondary level, there's 18 added positions (the list is on page 9; you can find how it fits in the building by building budget that starts on page 281). Some of those are balancing required course (aka: we need another math/English/science/social studies teacher) and some are expanding choice options (theater, dance, culinary, computer science, and more). The degree to which any particular student will see an impact there varies, but that is absolutely part of the ongoing catching up from underfunding which became understaffing that we've had for years.
Speaking of secondary, one of the adds including is a history teacher at Burncoat for the dual language program, which is supposed to rise to junior year this year. I went into this at some length during the budget deliberation (minute 33 in the second round, and thanks to my colleagues for giving me this space), as this one is personal for me AND we keep bragging about it! While that position is in the budget, there was no planning from central administration of the program, and the students, many of whom have been in the program since kindergarten and thus have been through several rounds of "will this program continue or not" (including the grade ahead of them losing it when they went to middle school) have signed up for other courses. Thus those students are going to have a single class in Spanish next year. That's not a dual language program.
Back to what this budget will rather than won't do...
It adds 4 freshman football coaches, 2 unified basketball coaches, 2 unified track coaches, and 1 assistant citywide girls golf team coach. The unified teams are really growing, which is something I haven't mentioned but is marvelous.
I also want to say: I think it matters a lot that Worcester doesn't charge for athletics and doesn't charge for buses.
Before I move too far of staff, please note: the Worcester School Committee is currently in negotiations over contracts with all (pretty sure?) of our units, so I can't comment on anything having to do with that.
There's also a boatload of instructional technology (top of page 10), totaling $2M. That includes over $100,000 for hotspots and Spectrum single-payer, as we continue to grapple with broadband inequities.
This is the first year the new student information system being implemented--yes, families, you're going to be hearing more about this!--so that is included here, too. We're also part of the city's implementing a new (or first, may be more accurate) "enterprise management system," which manages maybe not everything, but a lot, including payroll and purchasing. If you work for WPS, you're going to hear more about both of those, probably; if you're the family of a student, you're probably going to have more interaction with the first.
WHAT ABOUT STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH? We raised it in the fall, we raised it in the new term, our student rep raised it at about every meeting, and yet: the budget as proposed had no additional school psychologists, 4 additional school adjustment counselors, no additional guidance counselors. Additionally, we found out, through a report I requested, that, though we've had 30 psychologist positions budgeted for ALL of last year, we had only 25 of those positions filled for ALL of last year. It also wasn't particularly clear, at least to me, that enough attention was paid to filling that gap over the course of the year; thus, as I said during deliberation, there wasn't a lot of point, to my mind, in adding positions to a line that the outgoing administration has not filled.
The argument from Superintendent Binienda was that the addition of 12 wrap around coordinators for this coming year would pick up some of the connecting with outside resources currently being done by school adjustment counselors. I'm not sure any of us on the Committee necessarily buy this argument.
Vice Chair Jermaine Johnson made a motion during the second round of deliberation--it comes at 1 hour and 13 minutes in on the video--to instead add 7 wraparound positions and add 5 more school adjustment counselors. After deliberation, the motion failed, 4-3. Two notes on that: Member Clancey specifically noted the gap in psychologists in her comments prior to voting against, and there was ongoing mentions by about everyone that we confidently expect that this will be taken up by the incoming administration.
Note, also, that a couple of things did pass, including a inquiry going to the incoming administration about how we're delivering mental health supports to students. This has also been an ongoing inquiry, which has largely gone unanswered til now, from School Committee, dating back into the previous term, when we received a report on the ending of the HEARS grant; one of the things we'd asked then was about delivery of support services to students during the school day from community providers. We did not receive an answer on that from the outgoing administration. I, again, have a strong belief that this is no longer going to be the case with the incoming one. Of all that we discussed during the budget deliberation, this is one I'd mark for sure as a STAY TUNED.
Two things that I am VERY excited about that don't DIRECTLY impact academics but very much indirectly do:
WE HAVE AN ACTUAL FACILITIES MAINTENANCE INCREASE!
MANY YEARS AND YEARS!
This was a budget priority set by the School Committee back in February. The budget as recommended included the increase. It passed. THIS WILL MATTER.
It's also, for a district with 50 buildings that are as old as the mid-1800's, not nearly enough yet. But let's celebrate the win.
And note that we can do this DUE TO the Student Opportunity Act implementation, so let's hear it for the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations hitting the bottom line here!
You will see reports on this one coming out of Finance and Operations for sure! We now have a standing item quarterly reporting on facilities projects.
The largest increase by employee group this year is transportation, as well, which is what happens when you bring transportation in house, of course. Student transportation is budgeted to go from 133 positions to 365.
And have I mentioned that we're hiring?
To know that the district, as above, runs how we treat employees (WHICH MATTERS!), how we buy and service our buses (which also matters), and that we're going to actually know where the dang buses ARE and be able to share that with students, families, and schools, makes me so pleased going into this coming year. We've had a problem and we're fixing it. All the intent is to make it work better for everyone (save some international shareholders)!
That it's a better use of money is icing on the cake.