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BPS budget comes under fire

Yawu Miller | 3/22/2017, 11 a.m.
Cuts to schools dominated the debate during last night’s Boston School Committee meeting as students, parents and teachers appealed for ...
Dorchester Academy senior Fania Joseph testifies.

Yawu Miller

Cuts to schools dominated the debate during last night’s Boston School Committee meeting. Students, parents and teachers appealed for more funding in the final meeting before the body votes next week on the proposed $1.061 billion budget.

“My school losing over half a million dollars scares me,” said Urban Science Academy senior Joe Okafor. “Although I would not be directly affected, being a senior, students I know would have to lose teachers, great teachers that they’ve built strong connections with.”

Located in West Roxbury, Urban Science Academy is one of 49 schools that together would lose $13 million in funding. Although the fiscal year 2018 budget contains $29 million in added funding, according to BPS officials, new programming will cost upwards of $20 million, leaving little new money to cover existing costs.

School Committee Chairman Michael O’Neil told meeting attendees that the total allocation for the schools is increasing by 3.9 percent, a figure that apparently includes the $20 million the city set aside for collective bargaining.

City Councilor Tito Jackson said BPS has made the budget more difficult to understand by including the collective bargaining funds, which will not be part of next year’s operating budget if the city and school staff unions do not reach an agreement.

“Schools are on the receiving ends of very deep cuts,” he said. “There are dozens of schools being cut — the Dever, the Tynan, the Timilty, Urban Science Academy, Edison, Channing, Hennigan, West Roxbury Academy, Burke, Grew — and that’s just some of them. That is the sound of Boston’s opportunity gap widening.”

The majority of the schools in the BPS system will see modest increases under the student-weighted funding system, in which funds are allocated to schools according to the number of students they enroll. Schools that have declining enrollments are seeing their funding drop.

Tito Jackson

Tito Jackson

But while the district’s Office of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps is slated for a modest increase in funding, members of the BPS-convened Opportunity and Achievement Gaps Task Force took a strong stand against the budget.

“The OAG Task Force is opposed to the 2017-2018 budget as it is currently written because it will have a negative impact on the district’s efforts to eliminate opportunity and achievement gaps, particularly for students attending low-performing schools,” said task force member Ayele Shakur, reading from a statement. “By using the current Weighted Student Funding Formula as its foundation, the SY18 budget systematically disinvests in the district's lowest performing schools that have the greatest needs.”

Shakur and others noted that many of the schools most adversely affected by budget cuts are in low-income neighborhoods and serve high populations of low-income, special needs and English language learners.

Among those schools receiving cuts are six designated Level 4 by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and one Level 5 school. Shakur argued that lower-performing schools and schools with higher-need students should receive more per-pupil funding than what the current student-weighted system allows.

“Under the current funding formula, BPS creates policies that lead to under-enrollment, and then penalizes schools for this under-enrollment,” she said. “What results is a vicious cycle where the district’s lowest performing schools are forced to make drastic cuts year after year as enrollments plummet, until they are ultimately starved out of existence.”