Milton Public Schools Funded Race-Conscious ‘Equity Audit’ After Cutting Pre-K Program 

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How much does an Equity Audit cost?

In Milton, it costs $50,000.

The Milton public schools system encountered opposition from some parents during the past month or so when school officials gave a 91-question survey to middle school and high school students with questions largely focused on race and gender and students’ sexuality. Recipients of this survey were as young as 11 years old in the the sixth grade.

The race-and-sexuality survey is part of a larger Equity Audit that the Milton school system has hired an outside educational consultant to perform, which is designed to remove perceived biases against racial minorities and others.

During a March 20 meeting of the Milton Warrant Committee, which studies the town’s budget and makes recommendations about expenditures to Town Meeting, one member revealed that the school district paid for the Equity Audit and for a position called “senior director of educational equity” with funding that otherwise would have gone to its two teachers who headed the Child Study Pre-Kindergarten Program at Milton High School.

The pre-kindergarten program was for students age 4. They attended three half-day sessions — either in the morning or in the afternoon. Helping out with the program was also an elective course for upperclassmen at Milton High School.

The program had 15 prekindergarten children attend sessions where high school students worked with a certified teacher to lead the classroom. The prekindergarten students learned subjects such as math, English language arts, science, and social studies. The program also had activities built in to help children improve their social skills.

“Children are exposed to the community through field trips and the wonderful resources at the high school,” a description of the prekindergarten program on the Milton public schools’ web site said.

During the Warrant Committee meeting March 20, Elaine Craghead, a member of the Milton School Committee, explained that the school budget will not fund the child study program during fiscal year 2022 (which runs from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022).

“The $50,000 was funded through a cut,” she said. “The child study program at the high school — which was very popular and that students could get involved in and get experience dealing with pre-schoolers and so forth that was cut because of the pandemic. And that freed two teachers that were in that program. One-and-a-half of that went to our new director of educational equity and the other half of the FTE — that’s full-time equivalency — went to the equity audit.”

“If all of you were following what happened at the end of the school year last year, we had lots of issues that we needed to deal with in the Milton Public Schools — and that we should be dealing with in the Milton Public Schools and therefore, those positions were funded,” she later added.

“It’s out,” she concluded of the child study program. “It’s been cut. We do have other preschool programs, but not ones where the high schoolers are now involved.”

Milton has a full-day preschool program at Tucker School, an integrated preschool program with four or five half-day sessions per week led by a special education teacher but available to non-special-needs students as well, and a full-day special education program at Cunningham School, according to the school’s web site.

Susannah Hegarty, a member of the Milton Warrant Committee, and a candidate for the town’s school committee in the annual town election occurring today, asked Craghead what types of situations warranted the schools spending that kind of money on these programs.

Craghead referred to an incident last year in which a teacher was witnessed on a Zoom session online saying that many police officers are racist. The school district suspended the teacher without pay.

Craghead said this incident should not been recorded by a parent and that she didn’t like the way that the school district handled it. In response to the incident, more people came forward to the school district and said they felt as though incidents involving race at the school had been handled poorly in recent years. She linked the Equity Audit, which is being conducted by a consultant company called Cambridge Education, with that incident.

The school district’s superintendent, James Jette, also defended the Equity Audit during the March 20 meeting.

“I want to move the equity audit away from the survey because it’s more than just a survey,” Jette said. “They’re looking at opportunities for students to be able to provide a track for AP Courses that is equitable for everyone. It’s looking at our data systems and every aspect of our school. It’s not just the survey. It’s focus groups. They’re collecting data from PSATs, the SAT, elementary stuff, the MCAS, attendance, discipline records.

“It is more than just a survey and I don’t think anybody’s doing that intentionally, but I do think that I need to say that because it would be very expensive, it would be negligent if it was solely a $50,000 survey.”

Additionally, Jette mentioned that the equity audit includes doing focus groups with families as well as looking at college acceptance and retention rates in the district.

Earlier in the meeting, Jette said that the opposition to the survey proves his point.

“I wonder why now that’s becoming an issue when it’s not even asking them to talk about the activity. It’s just asking them for identification,” Jetted said. “We have students who may be gay, who may be lesbian, who may be bisexual, who may be transgender, and they have a right to come to the Milton Public Schools and feel safe and welcome and that was three questions out of 90-something. It just asked for identification and that upset people which tells me that’s why we need to do more work on equity and acceptance.”

Meanwhile, others weren’t as supportive of it. Warrant Committee chairman George Ashur said that he thought the $50,000 for the equity audit — including the survey — was not the best use of money.

“That again really disturbed me from a government’s perspective, from a financial management, and what else is there that might not be essential in a pandemic?” Ashur said. “I mean, I would argue that you maybe don’t need a survey in a pandemic if you’re looking for student-facing personnel, which are kind of a priority.”

Hegarty expressed a couple of concerns about the survey specifically.

“I’m able to understand the necessity of the larger scope, but I’d still be concerned that my child was contacted by an outside vendor without my permission and asked things about which she is not even aware of what they mean,” Hegarty said. “I understand that the survey was voluntary, but when a child is given a survey at school, the voluntary piece doesn’t necessarily come through when she’s given it by her teacher. And it included information that I frankly think should’ve been provided by her family.”