Saugus School Committee worries about budget cuts, MCAS scores

SAUGUS – While school administrators gathered to dissect MCAS scores for the School Committee the real concern was focused on next year’s scores.Despite some massive budget cuts over the last few years students continue to make progress on the MCAS and that worries some.High School Principal Joseph Diorio said his teachers have been successful in moving students from proficient to advanced and there have been significant strides in the math scores.”But I’m nervous about the next few tests,” he said, “because there is not as much individual help as there was.”That loss of individual help is tied to budget cuts through the loss of teachers and specialists that have hit every school.In the last year the school department has taken a $1.3 million budget cut.Belmonte Middle School Principal Charles Nasso said considering the cuts his school has faced he is shocked his students are doing as well as they are.”I’m amazed we’re maintaining and making progress,” he said, “because frankly those scores should be plummeting. I wish somebody would take their head out of the sand and realize we’re dealing with young children here.”Nasso showed the committee a graph showing how his staffing levels have nose-dived in the last year.Veterans School Principal Uri Harel said the analysis of the elementary school scores on the whole was fascinating because it clearly reflected where efforts were put and where they were cut.Harel said third-grade reading scores were flat because focus was turned to fourth-graders this year. The fact the schools have had to squeeze science classes to put more time in math and English is also beginning to show up in the fifth-grade science scores, he said.Like the concerns in the upper grades Harel said the elementary problems can be linked directly to budget cuts.Over the last year the lower level has had to cut an elementary curriculum coordinator, reading teachers, seven other positions, standardized testing, and are still dealing with large class sizes. The class sizes are no longer due to a shortage of space but a shortage of teachers.Harel said with all the cuts to the programs the elementary scores would at best plateau.”You can’t churn butter with a toothpick,” he said.”If we don’t have a recovery year next year,” Manville added, “we will feel the impact.”

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