School Committee passes budget, activists decry cuts

Schools forced to cut positions, programs as rising costs outpace funding

Yawu Miller | 4/4/2018, 11:34 a.m.
The Boston School Committee voted unanimously last week to approve the $1.109 billion Boston Public Schools budget, bringing to an ...
School Committee Vice Chairman Hardin Coleman, BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang and School Committee Chairman Michael Loconto listen to testimony. Banner photo

The Boston School Committee voted unanimously last week to approve the $1.109 billion Boston Public Schools budget, bringing to an end a month-long series of hearings that saw parents, BPS employees, students and advocates appealing to save programs and positions facing funding cuts.

BPS officials touted the budget as a $40 million increase over last year’s budget, and increase of 4.4 percent. But parent activists noted that the BPS calculation counted last year’s $30 million raise for teachers and staff as part of this year’s budget and asserted that the real increase is $10 million, or 1.5 percent.

Individual school cuts

In all, 44 schools will receive less funding than they received last year, according to an analysis by parent Kristen Johnson. The slashing of school budgets follows on the heels of last year, when 49 schools received funding cuts, and 2016, when widespread budget cuts led to two student walk-outs and a picket of Mayor Martin Walsh’s annual State of the City address.

Darren Wells, a member of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, said the proposed 2018-19 budget not is not sufficient to satisfy the district’s stated policy of closing opportunity and achievement gaps between black, Latino and low-income students and white students.

“The result is another year of painful, damaging cuts in schools, even those schools receiving small increases in funding. The most damaging cuts will again strike schools that are rated by the state as underperforming and are assigned by the state at accountability levels 3 and 4.”

Wells said Brighton High School, Dorchester Academy and the Henry Grew Elementary School — all rated at Level 4 — are due to receive a more than $2 million in cuts. Wells said the cuts would almost certainly condemn those schools to closure or state receivership.

He also cited the Chittick, Perkins and Winship elementary schools and East Boston High School as Level 3 schools as slated for budget reductions.

“These schools are at risk of failing and falling into Level 4 turnaround status unless BPS makes the investment required to improve their performance,” Wells said.

Greater Egleston High School and Dorchester Academy are targeted to receive cuts that Wells says will reduce the number of seats available to students in need of the alternative programs the two schools provide. Those cuts, and the cuts to Level 3 and 4 schools, violate the district’s own Opportunity and Achievement Gap policies, he added.

“Clearly, cutting funds of schools rated as underperforming [with] overrepresentations of students of color, without assessing the impact on student outcomes, violates the OAG policy,” he said.

Abundant testimony

During the last four weeks, school psychologists, paraprofessionals, parents and service providers testified about the impact of declining budgets. BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang touted the new Opportunity Index, a funding formula that takes into account the socio-economic conditions of a school’s student population when calculating funding for extracurricular activities and special programs,

“We are moving the bar on equity,” he said. “While the bar does not move easily, we are continuing to do so. Perfect cannot be the enemy of the good here.”