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A proposal to eliminate the Latin language program at the middle schools filled the Stony Brook auditorium with a room full of passionate learners on Jan. 13.
Three years of declining enrollment numbers have led Superintendent Bill Olsen to suggest the change along with the elimination of a $2,400 stipend for the year-long International Exchange program.
Olsen said that he sought out the small reductions to save jobs, “because we don’t have any place else to turn. We just don’t.”
But German teacher Tim Welch, who coordinates the International Exchange program, countered the decision.
“Since the superintendent’s proposed budget for FY2021 eliminates the stipend for this position, the committee must understand that eliminating the stipend will eliminate the program,” said Welch. “…I can’t imagine why such a successful program that has served the district at a mere fraction of a percent of the budget ($2,364 per year) would even enter into the conversation for elimination.”
Welch said the program has hosted more than 200 students from around the globe since the late 1960s.
Olsen put it into perspective.
“This type of reduction underscores where we are from a financial perspective,” said Olsen.
“…When we have to start looking for $1,000 and $2,000 reductions to avoid cutting into other staff…that’s when we know it’s concerning.”
Olsen is proposing to eliminate a full-time Latin teacher or a full-time Spanish teacher at Stony Brook School. Overall enrollment is down from 4,950 in 2019-2020 to 4,886 in 2020-2021.
Those numbers are dictating crucial decisions.
“For me as…I think about last year and I think about this year and I think about next year, and I think of everything that Bill said, man, if we’re looking this hard at $1,000 or $2,000, I’m going to tell you something you already know: we might be Niche number one but we are in trouble,” said Mike Colson, president of the Westford Education Association. Colson was referring to a Niche.com rating for the current year that ranked Westford Public Schools as number one out of the 218 schools that were evaluated.
“Yes we are,” said School Committee Chair Avery Adam. “I have no qualms about telling you, we are in trouble… we are looking for every place we can find where cuts won’t affect the classroom.”
Parent Ursula Cady asked how much of the budget goes to administrator salaries.
“What’s happening on the administration side of things?” she said.
Olsen said he would provide benchmarking information “in terms of administrative full-time equivalencies with other school systems. I think you’ll be very pleased to see that our administrative costs and the number of administrative personnel pales in comparison to many other school systems.”
“There are people who need to run the schools and to run the school system,” Olsen said.
The evening continued with a line of Latin lovers urging the administrators and committee members to continue to teach Latin at the middle school level.
Among the mix of parents, students and alumni was a biology teacher from Billerica.
“Knowing Latin makes it that much easier to understand the vocabulary in biology, which makes you that much closer to understanding the subject of biology…In science and biology, 90 percent of the words come from Latin and Greek,” said Kim Davis.
Former School Committee member Hajo Koester said he’s been thinking about what makes a school system great.
“I spent my entire career working at the corporate level and in international business,” he said, noting he’s traveled to about 60 countries. “I think one of the worst things you can do is cut the Latin program or the International Exchange program…We all have to make priorities…but please, don’t wreck the good thing we have…I hope you do the right thing.”