During a March 9 meeting about the Concord Public Schools budget, Superintendent Hunter shared slides highlighting data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Twenty percent of 6th graders reported depressive symptoms, and 24% had considered self-harm. Even some elementary school children have expressed suicidal ideation.
I was shocked that some Finance Committee members were so focused on the cost of providing mental health services for Concord’s students. They suggested a line should be drawn between caring for and educating kids. In fact, students who are anxious and unwell cannot learn. Teachers are front-line workers and keep kids from falling apart, both at home and at school. We cannot, and should not, put a dollar limit on protecting our kids.
Yet, at a February 15 meeting between the School Committee and FinCom, after Dr. Hunter showed a slide detailing teacher salaries, one FinCom member expressed “interest in knowing what the plans are to get the average teacher salary down.” Salary and years of service are intertwined, and Concord’s veteran workforce of devoted educators should be celebrated. During the pandemic, parents learned just how valuable our educators are. In my opinion, they deserve every penny they earn, plus more.
Some may see cutting the proposed, lean 2024 CPS budget as a way to solve the tax quandary facing Concord, but reducing educational programming and eliminating positions will not resolve Concord’s tax dilemma. Until we can identify new sources of revenue, we will continue to divide along fault lines, with children and the educators who care for them on one side, and those on fixed incomes on the other. This is not the town we want to be. On April 30, I look forward to coming together at Town Meeting.