In Framingham, the most visible reminder of education cuts is the now-closed Juniper Hill Elementary School, also known as the Last Resort in budget cutting.
Closing the school last year “was the toughest decision I ever had to make,” says Framingham School Committee Chairman Phil Dinsky. “Parents were pitted against each other.”
Two years ago, the city had been more fortunate. To address a failing economy, Framingham voters authorized a $4 million override for schools. By last year though, there was nothing left but the cutting.
Framingham schools superintendent Chris Martes ultimately made $1.125 million in staffing cuts last year. “It’s forced us back. Some people would say it’s pushed us back to the pre-ed. reform days,” Martes says.
The cuts resulted in the loss of 60-staff members. As Juniper Hill closed, other schools grew crowded. What’s more, faced with cutting additional staff or levying fees on students, school officials chose the latter.
This year students pay $180 annually to ride the bus and an athletic fee of $100 per sport. In the high school, students pay a $25 activity fee in addition to parking fees. “School should be free. You shouldn’t have to pay,” Dinsky says. In theory, neither should teachers, but cuts have them reaching deep into their wallets too.
With Framingham teachers and staff placed on a budget freeze, high school teacher Maureen Cohen says the burden to buy new supplies is passed onto the teachers. “I would say I spend $500 to $1000 in certain years of my own money,” Cohen says. She can afford it, but of younger teachers, Cohen says “they can’t go out and buy those poster boards or markers so they have to change their lesson.”
The lessons that remain, of course. Framingham has cutback its literacy programs, programs for gifted students and MCAS tutoring. And while the district faces level funding at best for the next fiscal year, state and federal education expectations continue to rise. “You just shake your head and you say how in the world do they expect us to raise the bar when they keep cutting our legs from under us?” Dinsky wonders.
With the Juniper Hill school sitting empty, the answers available right now seem just as hollow.