At the Cambridge City Hall, the School Committee is meeting about its budget for the coming year. There’s not a seat to be had in the Sullivan Chamber. People are clustered in the antechamber, watching the proceedings on a TV monitor in the hallway. The School Committee is expected to approve the proposed $137.5 million budget (various relevant links from here). But it’s a tricky business: the new superintendent has to come up with $3.7 million in cuts to make up for a budget deficit. And there are issues that are controversial. The biggest one is a proposed administrative restructuring.
For instance, two representatives of the Cambridge Teachers Association raised concerns about the administrative restructuring proposals built into the budget. The arguments are familiar: 1) there’s concern that faculty will be giving up decision-making authority to administrators (a message heard often down the street at Harvard in various contexts); 2) that the restructuring process is not sufficiently transparent; 3) that the input requested is not meaningful, too little, and too late; and 4) that current Cambridge Public Schools employees be considered before outsiders for any attractive new mid-level jobs created as part of the restructuring. School Committee members, too, raised concerns about not knowing all the details about where the cuts will fall exactly as part of the administrative restructuring before voting in favor of the budget overall. The echoes heard in this process to restructurings elsewhere in academic settings are remarkably clear.
The best part, though, is the public comments from students in the school district. One after another, students from the Cambridge public schools are encouraging the school committee to invest more in the school system’s environmental programs. One after another, eighth graders from the King Open school are making serious, compelling arguments to expand a pilot composting program from one school across the system and to increase purchasing of biodegradable trays. The students earn — and get — huge applause for their efforts. It will be interesting to see what kind of a lesson the School Committee gives these students in terms of rewarding their activism in a period of big budget deficits.