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Brookline

Parents fight plan to cut K-8 school program

Parents in Brookline are mounting an effort to save a school enrichment program, designed to challenge students, that could be eliminated because of budget constraints.

“I just feel devastated at the thought that the school system wouldn’t support this program,” said Anne Depew, who has two children at the Runkle School.

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Depew is one of a number of parents upset by a proposal to eliminate funding for Brookline’s Enrichment, Challenge and Support Program, which helps teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade provide challenging curriculum for high-achieving students, and those who learn at a different pace.

Late last month, Superintendent Bill Lupini proposed eliminating the program for next school year as a cost-saving measure, with the district’s budget under pressure from surging enrollment, increasing teacher pay, and the potential loss in federal funding for special education that could result from sequestration cuts.

But on Thursday, Lupini released an addendum to his budget plan that could partially restore the enrichment program with private funding.

The amended proposal would permit parents and community groups to partially pay for staff salaries to restore an altered model of the enrichment program; it would shift the current building-based consulting teacher model to a system in which coaches would work with teachers throughout the district.

School Committee chairman Alan Morse said the proposal to allow private funding to support the enrichment program is an option that the superintendent brought forward, and the committee will have to make the final decision.

Eliminating the Enrichment, Challenge and Support Program would save the school district about $264,000 in a budget projected to top $85 million for the 2014 fiscal year.

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“It would solve some problems, and it would create some problems,” Morse said.

Eliminating the Enrichment, Challenge and Support Program would save the school district about $264,000 in a budget projected to top $85 million for the 2014 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

But some parents say the cost is a small price to pay for a program that has been invaluable to students who learn at all different paces, fast or slow, and they have been petitioning School Committee members and district officials in an effort to save the program before a final decision is made.

Lupini’s budget proposal would also cut in half the time some elementary school students spend in music classes each week, and eliminate several general music courses for seventh- and eighth-grade students. The music cuts would save $264,000 by eliminating the equivalent of almost five full-time teachers.

The district would also eliminate a full-time elementary math specialist, and have one performing arts coordinator for the district, instead of having one for kindergarten through eighth grade, and one for the high school.

In his budget addendum, Lupini also included a proposal to charge a $1,000 fee per student for full-day kindergarten, which could generate up to $400,000 in additional revenue.

Morse said the budget for next year is the most difficult that any members of the committee have seen. He said the School Committee expects to vote on the budget on April 11; the final figure will be set by Town Meeting.

The Enrichment, Challenge and Support Program runs with the equivalent of fewer than five full-time teachers, who spend some time in the classroom and with small groups of kids, but primarily spend their time helping teachers with how to challenge students who learn at different paces.

Depew said the enrichment program has helped her daughter, Isabella Pirozzolo, who learns fast and sometimes gets frustrated when lessons were repeated for the benefit of other students.

Depew said a teacher in the enrichment program talked to Isabella about her frustration, and suggested she try thinking more deeply about concepts when a lesson is repeated in class, or try to help other students understand so she could continue to learn through teaching the material.

Depew said it was an important life lesson for her daughter, about how to deepen her learning experience without having to rely entirely on a teacher to do it.

Jenny Goldsmith said her two sons at the Driscoll School have benefited tremendously from the program. She said the enrichment teacher helped identify that her oldest son, Louie, was excelling at math, and as a result he was accelerated by two grades in the subject matter.

Without the enrichment program, Goldsmith said, she couldn’t have figured out what her son needed.

“He wouldn’t have been learning,” she said.

Lydia Shrier, a member of a parent advisory committee for the enrichment program, has sons in the first and third grades at the Driscoll School, and she said they have both written letters to the school district asking that the program be saved.

She said her son Jason Rich, who is now in the third grade, excelled in reading from an early age, and had been complaining about being bored until a teacher in the enrichment program began working with him.

But gifted students aren’t the only ones benefiting from the program.

Lupini said that since he proposed dropping the program, he has heard from a significant number of parents who have spoken about its benefits for all children in the class.

“That is very important for me to hear,” he said.

Lupini said that it is clear, however, that the school district faces a “revenue issue,” in part because of surging enrollment and resulting space needs.

To keep up with the growing number of students, the school district is exploring adding a kindergarten through eighth-grade school.

The district is also planning a renovation for the Devotion School, and in the last year has completed expansions of two other schools.

Chad Ellis, who has two children at the Runkle School, said he’s hoping the School Committee will find a way to reverse the proposed cuts.

“There is a very large number of parents who really want to keep this program,” he said.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.
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