School District Discusses Budget

Cambridge School Committee members discussed structuring the Cambridge Public School District’s budget to best improve student achievement during a Budget Sub-Committee meeting last night.

The meeting was held to review a one-page budget guideline for Fiscal Year 2011 introduced by school committee members Marc C. McGovern and Patricia M. Nolan ’80.

“Tough economic times will mean tough choices,” McGovern said, adding that the guidelines presented a way of making those choices. Cambridge spends about twice as much per pupil as other districts in the state, but the most recent Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) results show that the district suffers from a significant black-white achievement gap and scores well below the state average.

McGovern and Nolan suggested that the committee work toward closing achievement gaps by addressing the specific needs of different socio-economic groups, as well as under-performing schools over the coming school year.

The guidelines also emphasized closely evaluating the effectiveness of programs funded by the school.

“What we are not good at is checking whether our program is effective,” said Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons.

Committee members expressed diverging opinions of how achievement should be evaluated.

“There’s no MCAS for ethical behavior or kindness. But, there are some areas that can be seen, measured, and even counted,” said Superintendent Jeffrey M. Young.

Committee member Nancy Tauber called for focus not only on underperformance and state test results but also on communication skills and global experience.

In addition to achievement, the guideline discussed special education, middle grades, school climate, technologies, and operations.

Committee members said they were concerned that many of these categories overlapped, although they said in general the guideline was clear and well structured, and therefore more accessible to the public than previous drafts.

“[The guideline] clearly integrated the comments that we got from previous meetings and the format is more direct,” said committee member Luc D. Schuster.

But some members cautioned against attempting more new measures than necessary.

“It would not be a sin for the guideline to stay similar to the one from the previous year,” Simmons said. “Don’t always reinvent the wheel.”

This guideline will be voted on at the next meeting on Dec. 15.

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