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In face of cuts, Boston Public Schools details supports for district’s low-performing schools

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 5/11/2017, 6 a.m.
Boston Public Schools officials took time during the hearings to outline their efforts to support low performing schools, through measures ...
School officials and city councilors discussed what efforts are taken to support struggling schools, a number of which face budget reductions, and how far targeted extra funding goes. Banner photo

During recent budget hearings, city councilors fired off questions on how the city is supporting schools deemed underperforming. The question appears especially pressing as Boston Public School parents and education bloggers Kristin Johnson and Bob Damon write that several of the schools receiving cuts are those with low and lowest level rankings from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and with high populations of students considered particularly vulnerable. Fifteen schools ranked by the state as among the bottom 20 percent statewide (Level 3, 4 or 5) will see a budget cut by more than 1 percent, according to a March 2017 BPS presentation.

On the web

A Political Education blog: http://bostonpoliticaleducation.blogspot.com/

City council underperforming school hearing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-49tefu4Kys

Boston Public Schools officials took time during the hearings to outline their efforts to support low-performing schools, through measures such as visiting assistant teams, continued funding support for schools exiting turnaround and a fund for extra supports. Not all councilors seemed to agree that the measures go far enough.

Who feels the cut?

While some services and supports such as facility repair, psychologists, athletic coaches and transportation are budgeted centrally, schools receive funding based on their pupil counts. Declining enrollment has resulted in 49 schools receiving smaller budgets this year. The logic behind per-pupil funding holds that should schools lose students, they also lose expenses and can absorb cuts by making a reduction in classes or teachers. But critics are concerned that there are cases in which departing students are spread among various programs and classrooms, making significant spending reductions a challenge.

The students who are left behind in schools with similar levels of expenses and fewer resources are disproportionally more likely to be black, Latino, English language learners, low-income, special education or with high needs, according to Johnson and Damon.

“Every indicator of students within the achievement gap was overall higher within the group of schools facing budget reductions,” Johnson writes. This year’s cuts also come after a fiscal year 2017 budget that reduced the funding allotments for children with autism and socioemotional needs.

According to Johnson, among the 49 schools facing reductions, 42 percent have a higher-than-district-average number of English language learners and 46 percent have a higher-than-average number of students whose first language is not English. Sixty percent have higher numbers of students with disabilities; 66 percent have more economically disadvantaged students and 72 percent have more students regarded as “high needs.” In regards to race, 26 percent of these schools have a higher-than-average number of Latino students and 54 percent have a higher-than-average number of black students.

According to a BPS equity analysis of the proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, 75 percent of the funding cuts to low-level schools with declining enrollments are absorbed through reductions related to lessened need for classroom capacity, such as changes to teacher and aide budgeting. Another 25 percent of cuts affect student support, administration and instructional support funding.

Support teams

The district’s strategy for providing aid to underperforming schools includes targeted support teams such as technical assistance teams that visit certain schools on a quarterly basis to examine operations and help school leaders problem-solve on challenges, according to Liza Veto, the director of the office of turnaround and transformation at BPS. Thus far, tech teams have been sent to all Level 4 schools and are being piloted at two Level 3 schools.