As it is with most municipal budgets, there’s good news and bad with Boston’s fiscal year 2009 budget when it comes to money and programming aimed at the city’s youth and schools.
Last month, with Boston City Council’s nearly unanimous approval, Mayor Thomas M. Menino signed the $2.42 billion operating budget, a 5.1 percent increase over last year’s.
The good news is that the special appropriations budget includes a one-time $2.2 million boost for the city program that provides year-round after-school jobs to Boston youth.
That money came from two recent out-of-court settlements: $1.75 million from the agreement reached between the state Attorney General’s office and the Bechtel Corp./Parsons Brinckerhoff joint venture over the Ted Williams Tunnel ceiling collapse that killed Jamaica Plain resident Milena Del Valle in 2004, and $484,590 from a deal with Turner Broadcasting Inc. and New York-based Interference Inc., for their “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” guerilla marketing campaign that caused a public safety panic in Boston last year.
The funds are to be spread over several years, and could result in adding 300 youth jobs, according to the Mayor’s Office.
City Councilor-at-Large Sam Yoon, one of two councilors to vote against the operating budget, said he sees the $2.2 million after-school jobs award as a positive step, but questions the effectiveness of a one-time appropriation if it is meant as a short-term solution to what he believes is a long-term problem.
He wants to authorize using much of the new funding to study the issue of youth employment.
“What is the cost of unemployment of Boston youth, and what is the cost of not doing it?” Yoon said during a phone interview. “These are issues we need to start looking at. We have to say to the taxpayer, ‘It costs a heavy social cost by not employing them,’ and demand more from the city to address the issue.”
Such an approach may be difficult to defend, however, given the $30 million budget shortfall facing the Boston Public Schools (BPS).
The Boston School Committee in March approved a school budget that included $10 million in reserve funds to help close a $30 million operating gap. The bleeding didn’t stop there.
Two months later, BPS Superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson requested an additional $10 million, citing rising food and energy costs, decreasing enrollment and declining federal funding.
In all, the BPS will receive $832 million in the new budget, accounting for just over one-third of the city’s estimated expenditures.
The school system has moved forward with some of its new educational investments, such as $2 million for support of English Language Learner, or ELL, students; $300,000 for 10 new credit recovery centers, aimed at helping students in danger of failing to graduate with their proper class; and $500,000 to support alternative education programming.
While BPS funding increased in those departments, the schools had to make a number of sacrifices as a result of budget cuts, such as not adding new teachers in some areas, holding off further teacher development programs and reducing the number of social workers in the schools.
The superintendent’s budget recommendations explain that despite the shortfall, the schools will still be able to keep pace on many of its new projects, such as establishing an International Baccalaureate pre-university educational program and new K1 classes for 4-year-olds, as well as existing efforts to close the achievement gap, one of Johnson’s main priorities since taking the school system’s reins last year.
The bad news about the city’s budget is that questions still remain on how money will be used to address the city’s mounting dropout problem.(p2)
City Councilor Michael F. Flaherty's plan would place two street workers — civilian neighborhood outreach workers that pound the pavement looking to connect “hard-to-reach” youth with services and resources — in the Boston Public Schools that have experienced the most criminal incidents. If the pilot proves effective in reducing incidents, Flaherty says, he would look to broaden the program citywide. More »
Attendees were certainly not shy about sharing their views on the state of the Boston school system. A recent report showed that over half of city high school students don’t graduate in four years, and that the majority of dropouts are black and Latino boys. More »
During the 2005-06 school year, 3.3 percent of Massachusetts students in grades nine through 12 dropped out of school. Boston’s rate, on the other hand, climbed two percentage points to 9.9 percent. More »