Before a rare packed house that remained until after 10 p.m., the School Committee voted five to two to allow the to continue its popular, but controversial extended day and year programming for at least one more year.
Saltonstall, for much of its 17-year existence, has operated one hour longer each day and 10 days longer into the summer. The teachers are paid 16 percent more and do 22 percent more work, according to Saltonstall Principal Julie Carter.
Estimates were that Saltonstall's extended calendar costs the district an extra $100,000. That number, however, was challenged.
"The extended time makes a difference. It has a positive impact," Carter said.
The school committee agreed that extended time to learn was a laudable goal and as part of the compromise, offered by Committee Vice Chairman Jim Fleming, the committee voted to develop a plan to offer the extended summer enrichment programs at all schools, including Saltonstall.
Dr. Brendan Walsh, one of those opposing the compromise, said he did not believe the school district could afford to expand the after-school and summer enrichment programs that Saltonstall enjoys to all schools.
Dr. Janet Crane, who also voted against the compromise, said she wanted to end the Saltonstall extended calendar immediately. She said it was a question of treating all students equally.
Mayor Deplores Divisive Debate
Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, who disclosed that she is the parent of two Saltonstall students, backed the compromise on Saltonstall's schedule after two weeks of heated debate over the issue with critics saying Saltonstall gets a more enriched academic program than other schools do not get.
"We know we want more time on learning. We want to get everybody up to one more hour per day," she said.
The mayor, frustrated over the "divisiveness of the debate," conceded that the extended schedule at Saltonstall is more expensive. But the issues Salem faces will not be solved by money alone, she said.
"We are generous to our schools," she said. The per-pupil expenditures in Salem are far higher than in many similar cities, she said.
Improving education for all students will require more innovative programs, said Dr. Stephen Russell, the superintendent, after the meeting. He cited new research studies that suggest just extending the day for students does not improve learning.
The programs that were effective involved "hands-on experimental learning programs," he said. Many of those programs were offered by community partners, rather than the schools themselves.
Members of the public seemed almost evenly divided on the issue of Saltonstall's extended schedule.
Committee member Nate Bryant said, "It is clear that Saltonstall is succeeding." He said he was not sure if the success was the result of a higher socio-economic student population or the extended calendar. "I don't know the answer. Something is working," he said.
Walsh said he wanted to take the $100,000 for the extended calendar and apply it to other programs that cannot grow for lack of funds. He said underfunded early childhood developments programs would be a better use of the funds.
The debate continued so long that Bryant jokingly asked if the committee could send out for pizza.
Not a New Issue
Principal Mary Manning said the Saltonstall extended calendar "is not a new issue." She said it has long been creating anger toward Saltonstall. "It has been festering behind the scenes for years," Manning said.
Some speakers called the $100,000 "a drop in the bucket" in a district that is proposing a budget next year of more than $50 million.
Manning said she would be happy to have $100,000 dropped in her school's budget. With that money she could hire more tutors that were dropped from the budget several years ago.
She said she had hoped that this was the year the extended day would be addressed by the school committee for all schools. "It has been a long time coming. It's time has come," she said.
Several speakers said they doubted that Saltonstall's $100,000, divided by nine schools, would accomplish much.
Arthur Sullivan asked, "If it is working, why take it away?" He and others joined in supporting extended calendars for all schools.
The mayor and several speakers worried that the issue is pitting one school against the others. Calling the debate on this issue "disheartening," the mayor said the issue had polarized the community.
"We need to be working together cooperatively," she said after the meeting.
Budget Hearing Set for June 4
The school committee has scheduled a public hearing on June 4 at on next year's budget.
The proposed budget would see an increase of 3.8 percent from $48,856,000 to $50,694,000.
Increases would come from adding assistant principals at the elementary schools, hiring a human resource director for the almost 1,000 employees of the district, hiring a lead nurse coordinator, hiring more teachers at the Bowditch, Witchcraft and Carlton schools and increasing the staff at the Parent Information Center.
The district plans to save some money on lower natural gas bills for the next three years and keeping more special education students at the district instead of sending them to more expensive out-of-district program. About 20 senior teachers are also expected to retire.