Boston Area School System Make Cuts in Foreign Languages

Rachel Lebeaux reports on the elimination of Spanish and Latin programs in the Franklin school system (from The Boston Globe, July 4, 2010):

In the Franklin school system, where a budget shortfall for the new fiscal year has left 15 teachers in line to be laid off, the loss of a once-a-week Spanish class in elementary school and Latin classes at the middle school might seem small.  some School Committee members are questioning how the decision to cut the classes was made, while others see the losses resulting from the town’s long-term budget woes and an unfunded state mandate to combat bullying.

School administrators said the budget constraints, crystallized after a requested property-tax increase through a Proposition 2 1/2 override was turned down by voters last month, were not the primary reason for eliminating elementary Spanish and middle school Latin. They cited the ineffectiveness of offering Spanish just once a week, the need to fund and staff a state-ordered antibullying program, and an inability to find qualified Latin teachers to replace the district’s outgoing instructors.

But members of the School Committee are upset, based on their belief that the decisions were not first discussed in the context of districtwide educational policy, and that parents were not notified until the last week of school this spring.

“I think we should have had a public discussion beginning in early May to talk to the community about why this decision was being considered, what the options might be, and how people felt about it,’’ said School Committee member Ed Cafasso. “We have to take advantage of these opportunities to get parent feedback on changes that have a substantial impact on the education we offer their children.’’

Superintendent Maureen Sabolinski said the changes were brought to the attention of the School Committee through a series of memos starting in May, and discussed publicly at committee meetings on June 8 and 22.

But she acknowledged that the community-notification process didn’t happen as quickly as she had hoped.

“I think the magnitude of our other budget reductions is a real issue,’’ Sabolinski said. “I think that’s why we didn’t talk more publicly about it — we didn’t want it to get confused in the message of the override.’’

On June 8, Franklin voters turned down a request to raise taxes by $3 million. Of that amount, $1.8 million would have gone toward the schools. Without it, the schools are cutting seven teachers at the elementary schools and eight at the middle schools. The district is working with a budget of $49.9 million for the fiscal year that started Thursday, which is down $1.9 million from last year.

The override vote did not have a direct impact on the foreign-language program eliminations, administrators say. Still, “it’s sad because, in this globalized society, we’re one of the only nations where we’re not multilingual,’’ Sabolinski said. “It’s not a choice we really wanted to make, but we felt we didn’t have a choice.’’

Franklin’s elementary schools began running a Spanish foreign language program 10 years ago with hopes of offering classes three days each week.

“When we started it, we expected to grow it and make it a model program,’’ Sabolinski said.

However, Mullen added, she thinks that the district’s administrators are “making the best decision with difficult choices.’’

Latin, meanwhile, had been taught to Franklin’s middle school students for almost 20 years, Sabolinski said. With the elimination of Latin classes, Spanish will be the only language offered for grades 6 through 8.

“We’re continuing to look for a way to respond to over 200 kids who are going to be left high and dry after investing two years in the language,’’ Cafasso said, noting that options include after-school or summer programs.

School Committee members and the system’s administrators agreed that there is a need for discussions on districtwide instructional priorities, and said they intend to schedule time starting this summer.


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