Newton residents and Newtown Public Schools (NPS) students voiced their concerns regarding proposed cuts to NPS’ fiscal year (FY) 2024 budget at a public hearing held by the Newton School Committee on Wednesday.
The public hearing took place just under two weeks after Kathleen Smith, interim superintendent of NPS, announced projected cuts to staffing across the school district.
Smith said the district currently projects the elimination of 56.4 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. These cuts include a projected 25.3 FTE reduction in elementary education, a 20.4 FTE reduction in secondary education, and a 5.8 FTE reduction in student services, according to the budget proposal.
“I understand that budgetary constraints are challenging and that with each cut or trade-off we send a message about our values based on what we choose to do with our funding,” Jessi Champion, a Newtonville resident, said.
Parents and students submitted comments at the meeting advocating to keep various programs in the school district that would suffer from the cuts. The proposed cuts include decreasing funding for the Understanding Our Differences campaign, reducing the number of teacher aides in elementary and secondary education classrooms, and increasing caseloads for teachers, according to Smith’s presentation.
“Our values are committed to inclusion, so I ask that NPS maintain funding for disability inclusion efforts in a way that makes sense to pedagogy and current knowledge and understanding,” Champion said.
The Understanding Our Differences campaign is an initiative in NPS and across the United States with the goal of fostering compassion toward people of all abilities, according to NPS’ website.
“I urge you to keep funding ‘Understanding Our Differences’ and keep its programs in our elementary schools,” said Michael Grubb, a West Newton resident who attended the meeting with his daughter Taline Grubb, a seventh grader at F. A. Day Middle School who is visually impaired. “The ‘Understanding Our Differences’ program was invaluable for making my daughter, who has a visual impairment, feel welcome at Burr Elementary.”
Last April—in the lead-up to the finalization of NPS’ FY23 budget—residents, parents, and students rallied against proposed budget cuts to NPS.
Members of the rally outside Newton City Hall demanded that the city increase funding for NPS to avoid staffing and services cuts within the district.
Ultimately, the Newton School Committee approved a budget that included 17.7 FTE position cuts for FY23.
The public comment section of Wednesday’s meeting lasted over two hours.
In light of the comments made to the committee, members discussed the usage of teacher aides in larger classes for third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms with NPS officials Liam Hurley, vice president of finance in NPS, and Ayesha Farag, assistant superintendent for elementary education in NPS.
Farag said the prevalence of growing class size within schools across NPS is increasing, but the decision to include a classroom aide—in addition to an existing teacher of the class—should be made on a case-by-case basis.
“I think that some of it may depend on the makeup of the classes, and the particular needs of the classes,” she said. “It’s a decision that I would want to make in conjunction with a principal and team who knows those students well.”
Anita Hamilton, a special education teacher assistant at Oak Hill Middle School, echoed the comments of the public that called for preserving as many educational services as possible within the district.
“As a teacher we want to provide the best safe and affordable education to children, and I don’t think we can do that with that class size,” Hamilton said. “So we need to look at the budget and think first for the children, especially after COVID, to provide the best learning environment.”