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BPS schools bracing for $50m in cuts

BPS schools bracing for $50m in cuts
The Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building.

A steady stream of Boston Public Schools principals marched into the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building last week to discuss how the estimated $50 million in cuts to this year’s BPS budget would affect their schools. As news of deep cuts spread, parent organizers began piecing together a picture of a challenging fiscal year 2017 for the school system.

While school department officials have made no official announcements of the cuts, parent activists say high schools will absorb $7 million of the cuts, and more than 20 schools will receive cuts of 5 percent or greater.

Among the cuts parent activists have reported are:

• $800,000 cut from the budget of Boston Community Leadership Academy (highlighted on this blog)

• $700,000 cut from Boston Latin School

• $500,000 cut from the Boston Latin Academy budget

• $250,000 cut from the Boston Teachers Union Academy

• $200,000 cut from the Patrick Lyndon School

Additionally, the school department is expected to increase class sizes for Special Education students, upping the student-to-teacher ratio from 9-1 to 10-1.

In a statement released to the Banner, Superintendent Tommy Chang acknowledged the severity of the cuts.

“Boston Public Schools is entering a difficult budget scenario for Fiscal Year 2017,” Chang said. “Despite our projected financial obstacles, our schools remain strong and our commitment to excellence in teaching and learning continues. I have been touched by the tremendous efforts of our school leaders to engage in a thoughtful and caring dialogue about the challenging financial situation before us.”

Parent activists say the cuts will likely necessitate cutting school supplies, electives and even teaching positions.

“I honestly don’t know how schools will be able to deal with this,” said Citywide Parent Council member Heshan Berents-Weeramuni.

At Boston Latin Academy, parent council members are engaging in a letter-writing campaign to rescind the cuts.

While this year’s $1.027 billion BPS budget is $13.5 million higher than last year’s budget, the increase in funding does not make up for increased costs and declining state aid that have led to what BPS officials say is a $30 million budget deficit.

At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said the cuts and their potential effects on high schools are worrisome.

“We’ve made it a point to expand kindergarten seats to attract and retain families in Boston,” she said. “You don’t want the students currently in enrolled to have their education compromised. And you want familes to know that they’re on a pathway to an excellent learning experience that will put them on a career track.”

Structural deficit

In past years, BPS officials have warned of continuing budget cuts as the department struggles with rising costs of health care and salaries. This year, salary and benefit increases are expected to cost $21 million. Additionally, declining Chapter 70 state education funding is putting a strain on the department’s budget. Twenty years ago, state funding accounted for 30 percent of the BPS budget. Last year, the Chapter 70 funds accounted for just 9 percent.

As charter school seats have expanded in Boston, state funding that would normally go to the BPS district schools has supported those expansions. Last year, charter schools, which under the current statewide cap can claim no more than 18 percent of a district’s budget, gained 668 new seats. Those new seats could divert an estimated $9.8 million, using $14,750 as the average in per-pupil spending in Boston.

“As the seats grow, we go deeper in the hole,” said Citywide Parents Council member Mary Battenfeld, who sits on the Boston Latin Academy school site council.

Battenfeld and other parents say the impending cuts have sparked a flurry of parent activism, including a petition to stop the cuts and restore funding.

“Like many other schools, the school my child attends is facing a 5% cut, which means losing $700,000 … aka 7-8 teachers, a number of social-emotional supports, common planning time for teachers and more,” wrote Jamaica Plain parent Megan Wolf on the petition.

Pressley said parent pressure can make a difference.

“I’m encouraged to see that parents are organizing,” she said. “There’s a potential to reduce cuts when parents are organized, working with the City Council and the Boston Public Schools.”

BPS Press Secretary Dan O’Brien said discussions about the budget will continue.

“School leaders have been in discussion with BPS’ Central Office about the impending budget,” he said in a statement emailed to the Banner. “A public discussion with the School Committee will be held at its February 3rd meeting. A series of public hearings will continue during February and March, culminating with the School Committee’s vote on the budget on March 23rd.”