School Committee Debates Funds

With the upcoming fiscal year less than three months away, the Cambridge School Committee took the first steps yesterday towards approving the 1995-96 budget for the Cambridge public schools.

In a preliminary budget hearing last night, members of the school district's parents council highlighted what they felt were the most important areas in budget submitted by Cambridge School Superintendent Mary Lou McGrath.

The budget outline spending of $84.5 million, including a deficit of $750,000 which must be trimmed before finally being approved by the school committee in June.

"We did our best to allocate funds wherever possible," said Edward Sarasin, principal of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. "But it's clear that there will be some cuts coming."

Members of the district's parents council said the committee should preserve funds designated for decreasing class sizes, especially in the foreign language department. Although Massachusetts guidelines recommend that classes be limited to 20 students, the typical class at the high school has more than 25.


Recent statewide legislation mandated that students pass a foreign language proficiency test in order to graduate. The addition of a seventh period to the school day has encouraged more students to enroll in foreign language classes, increasing class sizes dramatically, Sarasin said.

The proposed budget, which calls for the elimination of 5.8 full-time staff positions, would push average enrollment even higher, said Toni Preston, chair of the parents council.

"Departments are stretched to the limit in terms of what they can offer," said Sal Tripani, modern language department chair. "Our large sizes far exceed the [recommended] number that is educationally sound."

At the meeting, Tripani asked the committee to approve two new foreign language positions because he said the increased class sizes pose a particular concern for students taking foreign languages.

"When you have 27 or 30 students in [introductory] classes, it's really difficult to focus on speaking and proficiency and having the kids practice in the correct way," he said. "That's where the problem lies and that's where we'redirecting our funding."

But Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72, who chairs theschool committee, questioned Tripani's claims thatlarger class sizes hurt student performance.

"We can't come to relate smaller class sizes togreater proficiency," he said.

The mayor also said he was concerned that theforeign language department does not offerlanguages like Arabic and Haitian-Creole. ManyCambridge families speak these languages at home,he said.

"I'm wondering if Cambridge Rindge and Latin iskeeping pace with the student body that we have,"Reeves said. "It seems that we have apreponderance of Euro-centric languages in a citythat's increasingly not Eurocentric."

Tripani responded that the school has recentlyadded Chinese as well as AP French and AP Germanto its list of course offerings.

"It's a question of budget and a question ofpriorities," he said. "That pretty much sums itup."

The school committee also heard from NelsonSalazar, a student at Rindge and Latin, also askedthat the committee restore funding for twominority teachers in the foreign languagedepartment.

The board also heard a request from AdamWeinstock, a junior at the school, who asked that$66,000 be designated to fund a multi-culturalprogram. The program would be integrated with theschool's social studies and language artsdepartments, he said.

School records show that 55 percent of the 9500students in the Cambridge public schools areminorities as well as 33 percent of all teachershired in the district since 1993