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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.

A contingent of parents and teachers from the John W. McCormack Middle School, due to receive a $935,000 cut, took turns testifying about their school’s plight. While the McCormack is rated by DESE at Level 3, several of its teachers argued that when the city turned one of its main feeder schools into a K-8, enrollment began to drop, precipitating a $1.9 million decline in funding over four years.

Teacher Brett Gormley said the cuts would force the McCormack school to shed ten teachers, even as student performance at the school grows faster than at any other school in the city.

“I see a great building with great teachers,” he said. “We’re not utilizing the school as best we can as a district.”

Weighted student funding creates a zero-sum game where some schools grow at the expense of others. Students, parents and teachers at Boston Community Leadership Academy voiced fear that their next-door neighbor, New Mission High School, would grow at their expense.

BCLA students found out the high school, which shares a building with them, was expanding to include 7th and 8th grades through a post on New Mission’s Facebook page. While BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang said there is no plan to subtract space from BCLA, teachers and students seemed convinced the New Mission would cut into their space. Last year the school, which has a high population of autistic students, saw its budget cut deeply as per-pupil allocations for students with autism were adjusted downward.

School Committee member Miren Uriate compared BCLA’s plight to that of the Margarita Muniz school, which lost space to the Mission Hill School.

“You’re pitting schools against one another when we may have other options,” she said.

Representatives of the Opportunity Gaps Task Force and Black Educators of Massachusetts called on the school department to adopt reforms before cutting school budgets. These include a requirement that principals provide “achievement gap impact statements” outlining the possible outcomes if their budgets are reduced; a requirement that BPS provide parents with “school impact statements” detailing how budget cuts will affect their schools and a requirement that principals in Level IV school provide an assessment of how budget reductions will affect their turnaround plans.

BEAM President Johnny McInnis testified in a March 1 School Committee meeting that the budget violated the committee’s Office of Opportunity Gap policy by “systematically disinvesting in low-performing schools that are attended disproportionately by students of color.”

Jackson said the cuts come on top of years of disinvestment that have led to schools closing libraries — thereby risking loss of accreditation — as well as cutting arts and music.

“The Boston school budget before us is a failure,” he said. “It fails to pass the School Committee’s own achievement gap policy. Instead it widens the gap. It fails the students who are in the dozens of schools who are seeing cuts.”

School Committee members are scheduled to vote on the budget at next Wednesday’s School Committee meeting.