Improve school funding so we can reach all students

Arlington is a high-performing school district overall. We achieve this with a lean budget, consistently coming in below the state average in per pupil spending. As our enrollment has increased, our per pupil spending has fallen further behind the state average. Our students feel the effects of this increasing shortfall. We are not able to fully meet the needs of all of our learners.

The Override Plan adjusts the existing funding mechanism for the schools to prevent further deterioration in per pupil spending with future enrollment growth. It also addresses the impact of past enrollment growth by increasing the base budget of the schools, particularly focusing on five areas identified by the school department that require better funding. The Arlington School Committee and the Select Board unanimously agree that these increases are needed. Needs and costs are outlined in the Arlington Public Schools Five-Year Budget Plan.

Improve funding to keep pace with enrollment growth

Enrollment in Arlington’s public schools has increased dramatically. Our enrollment has fluctuated from close to 10,000 students in 1970 to a low of 3,729 in 1992. As we face another significant surge, this puts pressure on our school buildings and on our ability to staff appropriately.

In the past ten years, enrollment in Arlington Public Schools has grown by 1276 students (26.8%) and is expected to keep growing.

The current funding model has allowed APS to keep up with hiring grade-level classroom teachers at the elementary and middle school levels. We need to provide equivalent staffing at the high school level for Arlington to provide adequate course offerings to its students.

Because of budget constraints, hiring has lagged in other critical areas. Our schools do not have enough nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists, or reading teachers to support our increased student population. The most vulnerable students are hit hardest by these funding gaps. We must keep up with enrollment growth in all areas to make sure our students can succeed.

Improve funding to narrow the achievement gap

In Massachusetts and in Arlington, there is a persistent gap in achievement between the general student population and students who are classified as “high needs.” In Massachusetts, students from low-income households, English language learners, and students with disabilities are considered to have “high needs.”

In Arlington, 26% of our students are considered to have high needs. MCAS scores are just one of the assessment tools used in the district, but they do paint a picture. In Arlington, high needs students in grades 3-8 are performing below all students on the English Language Arts and the Math MCAS exams. 30% fewer high needs students are receiving scores of meeting or exceeding expectations compared to all students.

APS proposes using increased funding to narrow the achievement gap through several initiatives, which include: expanding and improving special education programming, increasing differentiated instruction at elementary schools, expanding math intervention, and improving data collection and analysis.

Improve funding to increase staff pay and training

We rely on well-qualified educators to teach our children. But Arlington lags behind similar communities in average teacher pay by 13% and is 10% below the state average. Of the twelve benchmark communities we typically compare ourselves to, we rank eleventh.

APS has had particular difficulty recruiting and retaining special educators, substitutes, teaching assistants, and science educators. We need to offer salaries that are closer to average.

We also need to increase our professional development budget so our educators can continue to grow. With the focus on staffing for enrollment growth, professional development has fallen off. In order to teach as effectively as possible, as individuals or as part of a team, educators must continue to learn about their subject areas as well as updated teaching methods.

Improve funding to provide sufficient materials, tools, and instruction

Curriculum materials such as textbooks are underfunded and some are badly in need of replacement or updating. Increased funding will allow for purchases that have been deferred. It also restores funding for library books at our elementary schools. Books are currently funded unequally across these seven schools through private donations.

Our educators also need up-to-date assessment tools that will help them more accurately understand student learning needs. Better assessment tools make earlier interventions possible.

A phased plan to bring certified librarians back into our elementary and middle schools will enable the district to deliver a library and digital literacy curriculum that is important to all students, especially students in at-risk groups. The district will also be able to offer additional computer science instruction at the middle school level.

Improve funding to support student mental health and safety

It’s important for students to feel safe and included in their school communities. We must fund programs, counselors, and social workers that support students’ mental health and minimize disruptions to learning.

We must also provide adequate staff to promote safety in our school buildings.