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School Committee approves budget

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
School Committee approves budget
Students rally in front of the Bolling Building during a Boston Teachers Union demonstration attended by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (2nd from right).

The Boston School Committee last week voted 5-2 to approve a controversial 2018 budget that includes $13 million in cuts to 49 schools. Their decision followed testimony from students, parents and teachers who protested the cuts.

The school committee vote capped a series of at times contentious community meetings in which students and other public education activists pressed school officials to stop cuts to already struggling schools.

“How are you going to say we need to help Level 4 schools and then take money away from them?” challenged student Luis Navarro, speaking during last week’s meeting.

More is less

Boston Public School Superintendent Tommy Chang told school committee members and the audience in the Bolling Building that the budget now includes an additional $1.25 million to soften the impact of cuts and that more money could be added to the school budget before classes resume in September.

By the numbers

$25 million: The Boston Public Schools budget includes $25 million in new funding.

$20 million: The BPS budget includes nearly $20 million in new programs.

$15 million: The budget includes $15 million for extended learning time at 39 schools

He also noted that more than 70 percent of students will attend classes in schools that are seeing increased funding.

Some schools with declining enrollments are receiving large cuts due to a funding system that allocates dollars on a per-pupil basis. Brighton High School is receiving a cut of more than $1 million, the John W. McCormack middle school is seeing its budget cut by more than $900,000 and Madison Park Technical Vocational School is receiving a cut of more than $700,000. Other schools that have increased enrollment are receiving increased funding.

But even students at schools receiving budget increases, such as Excel High School — due to get a $60,000 bump — protested the cuts.

“Why is Brighton losing money?” questioned Excel High School student Trinity Kelly. “Are you planning to close it? Mayor Walsh, where are you?”

City Councilor Tito Jackson, who is running against Mayor Martin Walsh in this year’s election, said the city has not allocated enough funding to the schools.

“The mayor simply did not give you enough money,” Jackson said. “This is an irresponsible and unconscionable budget you should not pass because it harms the most vulnerable students.”

The budget includes $25 million in new funding and nearly $20 million in new programs, including $15 million for extended learning time at 39 schools. Chang said this funding represents a 3.9 percent increase over last year, when $20 million set aside for collective bargaining with unions representing BPS workers is included.

Jackson called it dishonest to include the collective bargaining figures, which will not be part of the budget if no agreements are reached with the unions.

The budget will go before the Boston City Council for a vote before it is finalized. Last year, councilors initially rejected the school budget, prompting the Walsh administration to allocate millions more.

School Committee member Miren Uriarte, who along with Regina Robinson cast a vote against the budget, questioned the tight funding for schools in what she said is an era of relative prosperity in Boston.

“This has been particularly painful for me,” she said. “Part of the reason is that this is not a year of fiscal crisis. The argument that there is not enough money simply doesn’t ring true to me.”

Citywide Parents Council co-chairman Heshan Berents-Weeramuni said this year’s budget is the latest in a string of underfunded budgets.

“Over the past several years, the Boston School Committee has passed budgets that have repeatedly harmed and dispersed our low-income and vulnerable students,” he said, reading from a statement issued by the group. “Budget cuts related to the student assignment system and weighted student funding disproportionately impact Level 3 and 4 schools by divesting money away from schools that need the resources the most.”

Following the school committee vote, several students said they plan to continue advocating for more funding.

“We’re going to find a way to push the City Council to vote no,” said Dorchester Academy student Fania Joseph, a member of Youth Organizers United for the Now Generation.