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Students decry cuts during School Committee meeting

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Students decry cuts during School Committee meeting
Boston Community Leadership Academy students demonstrated against a proposed $870,000 cut to their school’s budget in next year’s school budget.

The students, parents and teachers who packed last week’s Boston School Committee meeting gave impassioned testimony about the programs, teaching positions and extracurricular activities that stand to be dropped from their schools if Mayor Martin Walsh’s proposed $38 million in budget cuts are incorporated in fiscal year 2017’s final budget.

Interspersed among the students’ pleas was a recurring question about the mayor’s priorities.

“We’re living in a boom town,” said former School Committee member Susan Naimark. “Boston has had record sales of million-dollar condos. It’s not a question of whether the money is there. It’s a question of political priorities.”

The budget cuts have sparked anger among education activists, including a picket line in front of Symphony Hall during the mayor’s State of the City address in January. Students from the Boston Community Leadership Academy high school, protesting the $870,000 reduction to that school’s budget, produced two YouTube videos illustrating the impact of the cuts to their school — which are expected to lead to the elimination of Advanced Placement classes, theatre and advanced level foreign languages, the closing of the library, the loss of four teaching positions and a resulting increase in class size.

“This year, as a senior, it saddens me to see this school brought down by the budget,” said senior Bilal Lafta. “The reason we’re here is because our school teaches us to do this. Our school teaches leadership.”

New funding formula

The cuts at BCLA come as the BPS has altered its funding formula, which in the past has allocated more funds for schools with low-income and special needs students. Because students with disabilities — including many with autism — make up 22.7 percent of BCLA’s student body, the allocation reduction has hit BCLA particularly hard.

BCLA also relies more than other schools on veteran teachers who earn higher salaries. Those factors have combined to result in the school receiving a proposed budget that is 20 percent less than what it received for the current fiscal year — the largest for any school this year

At Charlestown High School, due to lose $500,000 from its budget, the Diploma Plus program offers a competency-based curriculum and smaller class sizes for students who are two or more years behind their grade level. The program will not likely survive the cuts, teachers from the school say.

Luis Aponte, who now maintains a 3.8 GPA at Northeastern University, was homeless when he enrolled in the Diploma Plus program.

“It taught me a lot about myself,” he said of the program. “I’m a living, breathing example of what this program does.”

School Committee members sat through two hours of student and parent testimony at last week’s meeting, one in a series of community forums and speak-outs about the budget. A town hall meeting at Boston Latin School with city councilors Tito Jackson and Anissa Essaibi George scheduled for Monday night was cancelled due to the snow storm.

A BPS budget hearing also was scheduled for Tuesday evening at the Frederick Middle School. On February 17, the Boston Education Justice Alliance is planning a “walk-in” protest at City Hall at 10 a.m. followed by a march on the State House to call for increased education funding. On February 29, City Councilor Matt O’Malley is holding a meeting on BPS budget cuts and the proposed unified enrollment program.

At last week’s meeting, former school committ ee member Naimark urged those present to keep pressure on Walsh.

“It’s our job to tell the mayor that the amount he has allocated is not enough,” she said. “He needs to hear from all of us that the political will is there to fully fund the schools.”