The Cut List (revisited)

Last year I wrote about the so called cut list charade. Former School Committee chair Roland Benjamin also discussed it here. The cut list is a political tool employed by superintendents to activate community support for their budget. Generally, the items included on these lists are emotionally charged and easily used to drive parents to town council meetings (or to the voting booth). Last year, many might remember the march to the microphone generated by the fear that a beloved music teacher might be laid off. Until recently I had been hoping that we could avoid another season of the charade but the cut list has again appeared during the 2020 referendum battle.

Logically, the cut list should only include low priority items that could easily be cut from the budget, but this is rarely what happens. Invariably, superintendents place items such as DLI, social emotional supports, and special ed funding on the list not because they are low priority but because they are guaranteed to activate motivated subsets of the community (usually elementary school parents) to clamor for full funding. The idea that these are the only items that could be reduced is ludicrous. These are choices specifically made for a specific effect.

It has been argued that by cutting these specific programs, we would be hampering Superintendent Savastano’s vision for the future. If her vision requires these items to be fully funded in FY21, then she could have prioritized them and offered other items as potential reductions. In fact, one of the items on the list, co-teaching, is incompatible with recent recommendations on school re-opening, which call for stable groups of 30.

Our high school population will drop by more than 200 students over the next 5 years. Instead of proposing unsustainable cuts in programs that specifically benefit the elementary and middle schools, why not begin the process of consolidating programs at the high school, transitioning it to a smaller, more specialized learning community, something we know will have to happen in the next few years anyway. The reason is obvious. This is an attempt to maintain the status quo, by offering only cuts that can be used to activate throngs of elementary parents to vote against the referendum. Every year we fail to prepare for the future make the cuts that much more painful when they become obviously necessary. It’s time to start that discussion now.

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