Medford school officials heard from students, parents and teachers Monday night who don't want to see the middle school foreign language program essentially eliminated.
Brittney Rodriguez is a sophomore at Medford High School who will be in level four honors Spanish next year, and she would not be where she is without middle school Spanish, she said.
“How are we supposed to compete at the same level as our peers when our foreign language opportunities are being taken away?” Rodriguez said to school officials in a public hearing for the school department budget Monday.
Cutting foreign language at McGlynn Middle School will save the school district about $119,000, equal to the salary of two teaching positions, according to the school department.
The cuts are proposed in a $47.4 million budget for the 2013 school year presented by Superintendent Roy Belson. The proposal is a $2.5 million increase from the 2012 budget, but falls about $1.6 million short of offering level services, Belson said in a phone interview Monday morning. The school department limited its budget to a $2.5 million increase at the direction of the city, Belson said.
The lion's share of the increase goes to paying previously negotiated raises for union positions that were back-end funded, Belson said. The raises total about $2.1 million, he said. Another $300,000 goes to fund positions previously funded by a federal grant, he said. Medford schools also faces needed increases in maintenance, transportation, special education and other services, Belson said.
Along with the foreign language department, the budget also calls to cut $50,000 in funding for athletics, eliminate five elementary school teaching positions totaling $243,000 and eliminate all kindergarten aides, which equals about $100,000.
At proper staffing, the middle school foreign language department would have six teachers, Beverly Nelson said. The program intends to allow students to enter high school at second-level Spanish, but with such limited staff it is rarely accomplishing that goal, Nelson said.
“It’s not that this is something we don’t want to do, it’s something we know is not working," Nelson said.
Nelson said students sixth grade would still have foreign language in their schedule once per week, and 7th and 8th graders would have more focus on foreign cultures in social studies classes. Newly-implemented computer technology in the middle school could also help, she said.
For over an hour, students, teachers and parents took to the microphone to voice their concerns over the proposed cuts.
Medford resident and Medford high foreign language teacher Elizabeth Gomez said the cuts would put Medford students at a disadvantage to their peers, and was skeptical any type of middle school foreign language program would ever be restored.
"Once a cut is made it is not restored," she said. "The cuts already made to the language department aren’t temporary, and this one will also be permament."
Gomez also presented a petition with nearly 400 signatures in support of the middle school program.
Most members of the school committee voiced opposition to the cuts. Committee member John Falco said languages are becoming more important, and schools should be looking to add more, not cut.
“I think this is completely wrong," Falco said. "We’re going in the wrong direction here.”
Paulette Van der Kloot said the focus should be on fixing the foreign language program.
“If the program isn’t working, then the discussion would be, 'how do we restructure it?'” she said.
The school committee will continue its review of the budget Tuesday. Belson may make changes to the proposed budget during the day and bring them forward at another hearing Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Medford High School.