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High schools to suffer under cuts, many say

Jule Pattison-Gordon
High schools to suffer under cuts, many say
Randy Chen, a junior at Boston Latin School, spoke at the hearing. Under the expected budget cuts, his school will do without eighth grade science.

High schools will be hit hard under BPS’s expected $38-50 million budget deficit, said parents, students and teachers testifying at a recent budget hearing held at Boston Latin School. In some cases, the effects could damage students’ competitiveness on college applications, speakers said.

While BPS’s budget is not finalized, the predicted shortfalls have raised fears at many high schools and, in some cases, already prompted cuts.

Under Mayor Martin Walsh’s proposed budget, BPS’s would receive an increase of 1.3 percent, or $13.5 million. However, the rate of inflation is 3 percent and faculty salaries and other costs are expected to rise, say BPS advocates, which mean that even this increase falls short of needs.

City Councilors Tito Jackson and Annissa Essaibi-George convened the hearing, during which councilors asked school representatives to inform of them of the dollar amount their individual budgets stood to lose and the impact of that loss.

Many parents and officials framed the funding gap as a matter of political will, not lack of resources.

“High schools are being asked to trim budgets that are not already adequate,” Mary Battenfeld, Boston Arts Academy parent, said. “It’s a lack of will to open up that [public] wallet and give our schools what they need.”

College competitiveness

If the current budget proposal goes through, students at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School may graduate without meeting college requirements, some argued.

According to Rebekah Tierney, the Burke librarian, under the proposed budget the school will lose all foreign languages as if it cuts its only remaining teacher in the department, a Spanish teacher.

“We now have one Spanish teacher and she has been cut for next year,” Tierney told the Banner. “At the moment, we don’t have any other foreign language teachers.”

Many colleges and universities request that applicants complete two years of study in a foreign language, and some, such as Harvard, recommend four. UMass-Amherst states on its website that two years of foreign language in high school is a “minimum subject matter requirement” for applicants.

Loss of foreign language classes was a common refrain among high school representatives. Members of the John D. O’Bryant School of Math of Science school site council Christina Yee and Shari Perry-Wallace said the school faces a deficit of at least $339,722. When increased salaries and expenses are factored in, the number rises to approximately $452,000, Yee told the Banner. To partially absorb that, the school likely will drop from offering three years of languages to two.

In some schools, certain foreign languages are slated to be cut, which could pose a challenge to some students seeking to meet colleges’ request for two years of a single language.

Boston Community Arts Academy will lose Arabic classes, said Battenfeld, parent of a grade 10 student. Another parent of a Snowden International School student said it will lose Japanese.

Many speakers also said their schools will reduce AP class offerings and lose funding for SAT prep programs.

“When you don’t offer those things, it’s very tough for a student to be able to compete with kids from the suburbs when applying to four-year colleges,” Yee said, referring to AP and language class reductions.

No science, again

Boston Latin School has been without grade eighth science for 36 years, and, due to expected budget cuts, will continue to do without.

The cut comes just as the school was on the cusp of restoring the subject, Randy Chen, a BLS junior, said at the hearing. A chemistry teacher spent the past year developing a curriculum, but it will go unimplemented, Chen said, noting that eighth grade is also the year students take the Science MCAS.

BLS cannot afford the three faculty members required for eight grade science and has officially halted plants to reinstate the subject next year, said a source at the school.

According to Barbara Peterlin, co-chair of the BLS school site council, BLS is slated for a $750,702 budget reduction.

Basic needs

In addition to curricular matters, some schools currently fail to meet basic supply and facility needs, according to Annie Spitz, a BPS teacher who has children at Boston Latin Academy and Boston Teachers Union Pilot School.

Spitz said that, in one school where she works, a student wears her coat and a blanket to class because of poor heating. Some BPS schools lack working water fountains, toilet paper, textbooks and elevators for disabled students, she added.

“We have schools that are not equitable for our students, that do not meet federal law,” Spitz said.

Losing librarians

Some schools expect to lose librarians, which presents risks to their accreditation, speakers said.

According to the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Committee on Public Secondary Schools’ accreditation guidelines, a school with 400 or more students should have a full-time, certified librarian or media specialist.

“If a school does not meet this guideline, it will be asked to indicate how adequate library services are being provided, including ensuring that the library is open throughout the school day as well as both before and after school,” the guidelines state.

Librarians said at the hearing that libraries are important to providing resources and safe, quiet spaces for students who may not be able to get access to that elsewhere, and that librarians serve school communities in ways ranging from administrative assistance to teachers to research assistance to students.

“Libraries are the great equalizer,” Burke Librarian Tierney said. “I have students that do not have computers. They don’t have printers. They don’t have wireless. They can’t go home and do their homework. They don’t have a home.”

Cuts hit early

Although BPS’ budget is not finalized, several librarians said they already have been presented with paperwork terminating their positions for next year.

“This is not hypothetical. This is not pretend,” said Tierney. She and Burke’s technology teacher signed paperwork stating their positions will be excessed, she said.

Lauren Vogel, librarian for Boston Community Leadership Academy/New Mission High — which are housed in the same building — and for Boston International Newcomers Academy, said she received and signed papers saying she will not be at either school next year.