Testimony before the Somerville School Committee
Monday, November 30, 2009
I want to thank the School Committee for holding this public hearing on the proposal to charge fees for the pre-kindergarten programs in the Somerville Public Schools. I appreciate your hard work, and earnest deliberations as you seek to guide our schools through the difficult times that lie ahead.
As the parent of a graduate of the Early Childhood Intervention Program at the Capuano Early Childhood Center, I can testify to the excellent work being done there. I can also testify to how difficult it can be for a parent, new to the Somerville schools to understand and successfully navigate the educational system – PT, OT, EIP, PIC, ECIP – it felt very much like swimming in a bowl of alphabet soup. Indeed, it wasn’t until someone at our pediatrician’s office told us the words we needed to say that we were able to get a placement in ECIP for our son. My point is that parents and guardians of pre-k students – being new to the system – are far more likely to be confused, and less likely to understand nuance and details than those of us who have figured out the difference between Choice and Controlled Choice*. Targeting this group as the first to be subject to sliding fees for services invited even greater confusion.
It has been pointed out that many of our neighboring communities charge for pre-k programs. I ask, do these school systems charge for other non-mandated, extra-curricular activities? Arlington, for example, charges for full day kindergarten as well as extra-curricular actives for middle and high school students.
In the past Somerville has charged for extra-curricular actives, and, I have been told that this was a dismal failure, driving away those students who most benefited from these important programs. I would suggest a different approach. Instead of having an individual pay to play, why not task the entire team, or orchestra or club with the responsibility to raise some or all of what it costs to run their program? Wouldn’t this approach reinforce the message of teamwork that these “extras” are trying to instill?
As everyone is aware, the peril of these times is that we end up pitting one group against another – the high school football player versus the pre schooler versus the middle school flutiest – who is the more worthy? Who is the most vulnerable? I ask you, as leaders in this community to take a broader approach, to examine fees for services in a comprehensive context.