Jan 222014

Like many of you, I’m troubled by the budget deficit crisis that our school district faces. I’m also troubled by the magnitude of the issue and by the (thus far) underwhelming level of involvement of concerned parents. This letter is a reworked version of a “Talk About Groton” post I made recently over the lack of talk on an issue as big as this one.

I know the school committee is tasked with helping us through this crisis, but it seems to me that more people need to come forward to express thought and be heard. I’m not talking about pitchforks and torches, merely thoughtful opinion and support. And to be clear, I am not roasting anyone, merely trying to raise awareness: I think the School Committee is in an unenviable position, and I respect the work that they have done thus far to start us down the road.

I’m a parent of three kids who will be in this school system for the next 13 years or so, and even after that, I will be a staunch supporter of the schools. Significant cuts to teachers, support staff, the arts, sports, and more will devastate this school district. Here’s a quick list off the top of my head of issues we’d face (knowing that there are more issues that I haven’t thought of):

  • Increased class size – Fewer teachers means more kids per class, which means less support for kids who need it, many of whom will likely be “general ed. kids,” though kids needing special ed. will certainly be affected. Fewer kids will “get it.” Will increased class size further decrease enrollment as some families seek private or charter schools? I’m guessing there are studies out there on class size and school district performance.
  • Fewer aides – kids who really need help will possibly lose their aides
  • Sp. Ed. cuts – more out of district placements as a result, thereby increasing cost to the district.
  • Fewer teachers – see above. We’d also see effects on student and staff morale. Teachers are what make this district go, and I’d hate to think that any teacher my kids have had thus far might be laid off, especially considering the tremendously positive effect they have had on my kids. Teachers also do all the little things no one else does; who will pick up that slack?
  • Elimination of arts – an excellent analysis of a series of studies 10 years ago or so reviewed the effect of the arts on school performance. Reading, writing, math, critical thinking, social skills and a positive school environment (just LOOK at the schools with student art posted, feel the ambience at a school concert) are all better when arts are part of the curriculum, and the more years of the arts that kids have, the better their SAT scores. See the “Critical Links” articles scattered all over the Web. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say that elimination of such might dent our kids’ development, and may well affect college acceptances.
  • Elimination of sports/activities – see #5. Exercise and activities create a positive school environment and undeniable health benefits – physical and mental – that make each child healthier, thereby increasing the health of the whole. I’m sure no official study has been done on the effects of cutting a kid’s team, but I’d bet the study hasn’t been done because we don’t need one to know the answer. With the burgeoning physical and mental health issues that our kids face, taking away what keeps their minds and bodies healthy doesn’t seem like a great idea.
  • Real estate values – A school district on a downturn will surely discourage new families from moving in, and should the issues be severe or pervasive enough, real estate values would have to take a hit.

I am not a politician, nor am I an expert on anything in the town, honestly; I just live here. I’m a pediatrician, though, and I do know children and child development. I have serious concerns about the possible irrevocable effects on our kids that cuts would create. Kids learn better when they’re young because that’s how their brains work. We need to enrich them while they are young, and these cuts, though temporary, would still likely be 2 or 3 years out of our children’s already-short childhood. That’s too much time.

We need other solutions other than cuts. Please help support the school committee, our schools, and our children. Please come to the meetings. I am, if only to educate myself on how this whole thing works. I’m late to the party, but I’m here.

Sorry for the polemic.

Brian F. DiGiovanni, MD FAAP