Higher pay, reasonably sized classrooms, more flexible class schedules and support -- these are the general categories where Arlington public school teachers would like to see improvements in next year's budget.
Eight teachers presented wishes for their colleagues as an estimated 25 people in the audience, most of them teachers, listened on Thursday, Dec. 18. So did the seven members of the School Committee as well as representatives of the administration.
Three art teachers made clear they would like to see improved class scheduling. Cindy Starks, chair of the budget subcommittee issues of scheduling and space are addressed "outside the budget process"; that is, by the administration.
The top issue -- pay -- was not discussed in specific terms, because it is a matter of ongoing contract negotiations.
Below is brief summary of the request from each teacher followed by responses from School Committee members.
Linda Hanson, Arlington Education Association (AEA) president, introduced the speakers. She said teachers would like to regain and surpass the level of service before the 2011 override. "For next year’s budget," she said, "teachers would like to see more attention paid to competitive compensation for teachers."
Siobhan Foley, who teaches third grade at Thompson, representing elementary instructors, expressed concern about class sizes and the increasing workload. "Their primary concern, however, is the fear of letting a child slip through the cracks," she said.
She said teachers would also like to see "a significant increase" in salaries. See the schedule of salaries under the current contract)
Following the elementary principals' request to fund social workers in each elementary building after a grant ends this year, she said teachers echo the plea.
Foley's other requests were related to time as the demands on teachers have increased.
Progress in art offset by needs
Dave Ardito, interim K-12 director of visual art for Arlington public schools, hired six years ago, said visual arts have made much progress. He said the one area that has not improved is the way the program is constructed. "Obstacles exist that prevent art teachers and their students from accomplishing even more," he said.
He referred to two documents; one summarizes the issues and the other presenting data comparing neighboring towns. (See them in his full statement.)
David Moore, who has taught visual arts since 2001, represented Arlington High School.
He urged moving "from the standard one-size fits all to the edges in education." His pleas reflected on issues of time, class size, scheduling, and support for adding a house dean.
Julianna Keyes, who teaches eighth-grade world history, represented Ottoson. She echoed requests about pay and class size but added a concern: "The exodus of printers in favor of copiers only within the past two years has cost teachers time -- specifically, a longer time waiting for a small job while someone else’s large job prints," she wrote. "Then, if copiers break down -- which also happens frequently -- there is no recourse."
Erica Dusombre, who teaches kindergarten at Hardy and represented kindergarten teachers, focused on Tools of the Mind. While using this curriculum effectively, she said, its demands "are high and involve teacher scaffolding throughout all moments of the day."
She said the program was designed for a class size of 18 with a teacher and a full-time assistant. In Arlington, she said, this year’s average class size is 22, with one class having 19 and the remainder in the low 20s. Two classes have 25 students.
Patty Toohig, a speech pathologist, representing Menotomy Preschool, noted the request for a full-time classroom teacher for special-needs 3- to 5-year-olds, two teaching assistants and the impact an added class will have on services.
School Committee responses
Jud Pierce said he recognizes the tension between increasing salary and keeping class sizes smaller, asking: Which should come first?
"We're all of one mind," Hanson responded, drawing some laughter from the audience.
She added: "The case you have heard [tonight from teachers] speaks for itself."
Paul Schlichtman asked whether the scheduling of art teachers a function of making sure there is common planning time.
"One affects the other," Hanson said.
Schlichtman made clear the committee would not be addressing scheduling.
Committee members' priorities
Members then provided their priorities.
Bill Hayner urged maintaining social workers now paid via grants be kept in the budget. He also asked for funds for professional development for School Committee members.
Jeff Thielman favored adding a high school dean, retaining social workers and literacy coaches as well as attending to requests from the special education department.
"We don't want to go back to when [the department] was under state review," he said.
Schlichtman said tops on his list are social workers.
In addition, he said, "Every teacher deserves a coach" and that he agreed with the request for copiers.
Pierce addressed an issue none of the teachers mentioned: "I fully support a longer school day."
His priorities among issues teachers raised include attending to class size and social workers. He added he wants a "more robust" curriculum at Arlington High School.
Jennifer Susse offered priorities reflecting some concerns in the part of East Arlington where she lives: inspect and fix playgrounds, make sure Thompson fifth-graders whose parents can't afford science camp get to go and adding Hardy crossing guard at Marathon Street.
Starks supports elementary social workers and full-time kindergarten teaching assistants, more cluster teachers and another nurse at Ottoson, an added dean and support for science and computer science at AHS and an increase in pay for special-education teaching assistants.
Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said called the new budget "challenges for us all with available funds." She added: "Administrators do an enormously good job with the resources we have."
This story was published Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014.
FACEBOOK BOX: To see all images, click the PHOTOS link just below