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Rising School Budget Sparks Worries Among Cambridge City Councilors

Rising Cambridge Public Schools budgets sparked worries among some City Councilors and School Committee members.
Rising Cambridge Public Schools budgets sparked worries among some City Councilors and School Committee members. By Joey Huang
By Darcy G Lin and Emily T. Schwartz, Crimson Staff Writers

Rising Cambridge Public Schools budgets sparked worries among some City Councilors and School Committee members during a joint roundtable discussion Monday.

Cambridge Public Schools Superintendent Victoria L. Greer and interim Chief Financial Officer Ivy Washington told the two bodies that CPS’ fiscal year 2025 general fund budget is projected to be $268.25 million — a 9.5 percent projected increase from the previous fiscal year.

But Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern and Councilor Burhan Azeem, in addition to School Committee member Elizabeth Hudson, raised concerns about the increased budget, which has risen every fiscal year since at least fiscal year 2012.

McGovern, who speculated that city revenues could diminish in future years due to biotechnology labs leaving Cambridge, said it was important to evaluate “what’s working and what’s not working.”

“We may find ourselves with our backs against the wall and that we simply just can’t afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” McGovern said, though he added that he did not want to see budget cuts.

Azeem also expressed worry that “trade-offs are coming.”

“We might not have money to redo certain schools, or if we really do prioritize schools, we might not be able to do other things that the city is interested in,” he said.

Greer and Washington attributed the increase to investments in the Universal Preschool Program, set to debut this fall, as well as cost-of-living salary increases and a 30-minute extension of the school day, components of the CEA contract agreement negotiated last fall.

According to Greer, the district also spends twice the state average on guidance and counseling. Each CPS school building employs a school counselor, adjustment counselor, social worker and school psychologist.

Greer also said that funds are going toward developing and implementing new middle and elementary school literacy curricula to reach the district’s “aspirational target” of 100 percent students meeting grade-level expectations for literacy and math by 2025.

School Committee member Elizabeth Hudson said the rising budget calls for greater accountability on whether the district’s “really great, big, ambitious programs” are working.

“In 2017, I think our total expenditures per pupil was $28,000. In 2022, all in, it was about $36,000,” Hudson said. “So that’s a 30 percent jump with no real change in student achievement scores.”

When certain City Council members expressed interest in staying involved in school budget discussions, School Committee member Richard Harding Jr. said the School Committee needs time on its own to discuss the budget.

“While it may seem like we’ve had 60,000 conversations, we have not,” Harding said. This is very, very early in the process, so if we were to come back together, it should be after we have thoroughly had some conversations within the school committee.”

After receiving feedback that the district did not engage residents and caretakers in budget-related discourse early on, the district began holding public meetings in December to discuss the budget, said Greer. The district will hold their fourth and final school open budget discussion on Feb. 13.

The budget analysis and planning process will end in March, and the final budget is slated to be adopted in June.

—Staff writer Darcy G Lin can be reached at darcy.lin@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Emily T. Schwartz can be reached at emily.schwartz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @EmilySchwartz37.

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