The Parent Imperfect joined about 65 other hearty souls at last night’s public school budget hearing at the Hyde Park Educational Complex. BPS proposes filling a “sixty million dollar hole” in the school budget with 89 teachers, 109 paras, 26 administrators, a whole adult ed program and lots of yellow school buses. Sixty million makes for a big hole. No one who dragged themselves out of the house last night did so to express their support for the cuts.
School Committee Chair, Michael O’Neill made a valiant effort to lighten things up a bit in his welcoming remarks, but few attendees were in that kind of mood. A senior financial officer of the BPS went through the now familiar slides. Only through a combination of pink slips, program cuts and transportation service changes could the District balance this year’s budget. If the draft budget presented last night became a reality today, 223 people would lose their jobs, Boston’s unique adult education program would all but disappear and middle school students eligible for transportation would be on MBTA buses, instead of yellow school buses.
All of these cuts would be necessary, despite a decision by Mayor Walsh to increase City government outlays for the School Department by 3.8%, while asking all other departments to take a 1% cut. The combination of ordinary cost increases, drastic declines in State and Federal support and contract-mandated salary increases had created a budget hole much deeper than what the City could fill.
Upon hearing the news, sixteen members of the audience paraded to the microphones to say, “don’t do it!” They included parents from the BTU School, the Roosevelt, the Philbrick, the Mendell, the Curley and the Lyndon, all schools facing the loss of teachers and valuable programs. Teachers and students of the Adult Education Center spoke eloquently of its importance in their lives, and the members of one class came to the meeting together for a “lesson in democracy.” A leader of Boston’s Special Education Parents’ Advisory Council spoke, as did Tim McCarthy, the City Councillor from Hyde Park who committed himself to fight on the floor of the City Council to avoid cuts to schools now moving in the right direction. Most in the room stood as others spoke, showing that they weren’t there just to speak for their issue.
One parent from West Roxbury cut to the chase quite nicely. “In two weeks of looking at this, I’ve discovered that the real solutions are two: Chapter 70 allocations and charter reimbursements. If I have figured this out in two weeks, you certainly can, too.”
She was pointing to the real fact that the current State budget limits spending on public education through Chapter 70 and that the formula for allocation this money has been changed in ways that work for some smaller cities, but definitely work against Boston. She was also pointing to the fact the $85 million in Chapter 70 money goes directly to charter schools. The Legislature is supposed to reimburse part of this through a separate appropriation, but they’ve been hedging on that in recent years, and not even this inadequate reimbursement has happened yet this year.
She’s right on about the immediate pressure points, but I hope we can effectively advocate with State officials without losing our conversation about how the BPS is making decisions about the money that is in the pot now.
As the meeting ground to a close, the Chair spoke directly about his own resistance to cutting an Adult Education program that has existed for over 100 years. He also said that he was ready to “join forces” with parent groups and other advocates to go to the State House to ask for more money.
Parent groups in the room seemed ready to join forces with the School Committee to advocate for additional State funds, but they also seemed unhappy with a lack of transparency in how budget decisions are being made in the District as well as with the content of many of the decisions concerning the allocation of existing funds. Joining forces will only work if all are interested in an open partnership, and I still have questions about the District’s openness about its decisions.
Meanwhile, the clock ticks. The School Committee must pass a balanced budget in three weeks, or the scene shifts to the City Council, where a knock down, drag out awaits a very new Council. Very soon, something has to give.