Politics, Newton

City Council and School Committee Discuss Budget, New Communication Platform in Joint Meeting

The Newton City Council and Newton School Committee discussed budgeting shortfalls and a new communication platform for parents in a joint meeting Monday night.

“We have some real issues that we need to address now,” Newton School Committee Chair Chris Brezski said. 

Brezski explained the city will need to make up for some budgeting gaps.

“The growth of our student needs is exceeding the growth of city revenue,” Brezski said.

Brezski mentioned students’ needs have changed due to missing out on in-person learning during the pandemic, and said that must be factored in when discussing funding.

“Our kids weren’t in school for the better part of a year, and that had a really destructive force on how they developed,” Breszki said. “This is part of the equation of how we have to think about funding.”

One of the ways to address this learning loss is to reduce class sizes and enhance individualized attention, according to Anna Nolin, Newton Public Schools (NPS) superintendent. 

Nolin explained the average class sizes range between 27 and 32 students across Newton North and Newton South High Schools.

“If there are 32 students in your class, and you have a 50-minute class period, how much personalized attention do you think students are receiving in those classrooms?” Nolin said.

Nolin mentioned how large class sizes reduce the quality of students’ learning.

“In some of our lab classes, it’s almost impossible to execute the lab with that many young people in one class,” Dr. Nolin explained.

NPS will also launch a new method of communication with families as part of its goal of increased transparency and language accessibility, according to Nolin.

“We’re about to move to a different, multilingual, multi-resource parent communication platform, that has a social media-like interface, so it’s like Facebook,” Nolin said. 

Nolin said the new platform will allow families to better communicate with teachers and administrators.

“People subscribe to it in their home language, and it makes it very easy for anyone to communicate with families across the system,” she said.

Nolin emphasized the importance of improving the NPS’ communications with families.

“Newton parents need us to build trust with them, of how are their children doing on that continuum of learning and skill acquisition,” Nolin said. “We should be able to give real-time information about student progress over time, and we don’t have the tools currently in place across all subject areas and within the system.”

Nolin stressed the importance of restoring school programs that had to be cut due to budgeting.

“Students often have open parts of their schedule because there are no electives available due to budget cuts for that slot to be filled,” she said. “I want those electives restored.”

Concluding the meeting, Ward 7 Councilor-at-Large Marc Laredo briefly discussed the recent teacher strike and thanked the committee for its work during that time.

“I was incredibly proud of how this council handled the school strike situation,” he said. “I think we came together. I like to think we are quite supportive of our school committee, our school superintendent, the administration, and our understanding, at the same time, the legitimate concerns and needs of our teachers.”

February 14, 2024