Saturday, October 8, 2011

Public Education has suffered under Koch

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By Anne Mahoney

On September 8th, thousands of Quincy children returned to school. Unfortunately, the schools they returned to have suffered financially and academically in recent years due to the misplaced priorities of the Koch administration.

A recent Boston magazine article ranked the Quincy Public Schools 108th out of 135 area school districts, and when you look at what’s happened to our schools since 2008, it’s not hard to see why. When I first joined the School Committee in 2006, it was a positive, exciting time for public education in the city of Quincy. Among the many accomplishments achieved around that time were the implementation of full-day kindergarten and literacy specialists as well as plans for the construction of the new Quincy High School.

Most people understand the importance of good public school system. In addition to providing our children with the top-notch academic preparation they need to compete in the global economy of tomorrow, good public schools make a community a more attractive place to live. That in turn leads to increased property values, which generate more tax revenue for increased police, fire and other public services enjoyed by all Quincy residents.

Since Tom Koch became mayor, however, it seems as though the Quincy Public Schools are no longer the top priority they once were. Under the Koch administration, the city’s FY2010 saw a $1 million cut to the public schools budget – a reduction that translated into a $3 million shift in the schools’ bottom line when the schools had to pay $1.5 to cover unemployment costs for those positions, plus shift money from classroom funding to cover maintenance costs.

The FY2011 budget saw the deepest cut of all to the Quincy Public Schools: a proposed $9 million cut that was later reduced to $6 million when teachers agreed to defer raises. Even with the deferral, the Quincy Public Schools lost 72 teachers as well as other staff including custodians and security personnel.

All told, since Tom Koch took office the Quincy Public Schools have endured more than $9 million in budget cuts and lost more than 160 positions. Key academic and extracurricular programs have also been cut – including literacy specialists, middle school reading, SAT Prep, Media, Technology, Health, Art/Music, history programs, a 50% cut in extra-curricular activities for secondary school and more – while fees for bus transportation and other programs have been increased. [See below for a detailed list of program eliminations and reductions and fee increases.]

These cuts and program shifts have placed a tremendous strain on our school system’s performance. Increased class sizes and program reductions or eliminations have a direct impact on a district’s graduation rate and drop-out statistics, which in turn impacts the percentage of students who go on to college.

One of the reasons I first ran for public office was because I’m committed to making sure we offer our children the best possible public education system. As a mother and parent of three Quincy Public Schools students, I care passionately about preserving and improving the educational experience of all Quincy children. As a School Committee member, it’s been very difficult to watch the Koch administration systematically dismantle the progress we’d made in our public schools. And wherever possible, I’ve fought to maintain funding and prevent further erosion of our school system.

But the simple truth is that there’s only so much a School Committee member – or even the entire School Committee – can do to prevent such cuts from decimating our schools. Under Quincy’s charter, it is the mayor who has the ultimate power to set the city’s funding priorities. And quite frankly, Tom Koch just doesn’t seem to put education among his top priorities.

In fact, Mayor Koch seems more concerned about handing out six-figure jobs to friends, family and political cronies and funding pet projects like a new boat ramp in Merrymount Park than he does about ensuring that the Quincy Public Schools offer a high-quality, free education to Quincy’s children.

As mayor, I will restore public education to a top funding priority. Drawing on my background in finance and private-sector business experience, I will work to improve the city’s overall financial picture, which has been jeopardized by the Koch administration’s incessant borrowing.

I will also begin forecasting city budgets – a change that would help the city plan for long-term costs and enable city departments, like the schools, to better plan for the future. Quincy is one of the few cities in Massachusetts that doesn’t do budget forecasting. Currently, Quincy doesn’t even begin discussing next year’s budget until May, which only gives city departments – including the School Committee – about eight weeks to make decisions as to how to prioritize and allocate the budget given to them. If Quincy is to strengthen and stabilize its financial situation, we need to start looking beyond next year and planning for the future.

I believe that working together, we can restore public education to its rightful place as a top priority in our city, and that by doing so, we will build a better Quincy for our families and our children.

Funding changes/program eliminations to Quincy Public Schools under the Koch administration:

Programs Eliminated/Positions Cut:

Medial/Library K-8
Curriculum Director
High School Department Heads
Middle School Reading
Middle School History
Full Day Aids in Kindergarten
Office and Para Aides
SAT prep classes in high school (impacts college entrance)

Shifts in Academic Programs
Increased class sizes due to budgets
Literacy Teachers lost: 3.5
Health Teachers
Media Teachers
Phys. Ed. Teachers
Art/Music Teachers
Occupational Therapy Teachers
50% cut in extra-curricular activities secondary schools

Fees Increased:
Athletics (Eliminated Freshman and JV Participation. Dropped teams down to 24)

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