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At Madison Park, focus on budget

Funding dips with enrollment, true needs unclear, BPS says

Jule Pattison-Gordon
At Madison Park, focus on budget
Community members are concerned that Boston’s only technical vocational school gets the funds it needs to continue turnaround efforts.

Many eyes are on Madison Park Technical Vocational High School’s budget as the school seeks to recover after being declared “underperforming” by the state.

Members of Friends of Madison Park say the school’s potential has been stunted by years of resource starvation. While many are excited by the work of new executive director Kevin McCaskill and new headmaster Shawn Shackelford to turn the school around, some say only so much can be done if funding does not also flow.

“Madison shouldn’t be receiving any kinds of cuts. As matter of fact they should be receiving extra money added to the school,” Bob Marshall, member of Friends of Madison Park, told the Banner.

Boston Public Schools officials said in a phone interview that they know the current formula for setting Madison Park’s budget falls short and continue to develop an accurate assessment of how much the school needs for its operations.

By the numbers

903: The number of students enrolled at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School this year

870-875: The number of students predicted to be enrolled at Madison Park next year

$15.9 million: Madison Park’s budget this year

$14.9 million: Madison Park’s projected budget for next year

McCaskill expressed confidence that even with some cuts in next year’s budget, students will not be affected.

“We’ve hammered out a budget that really is not going to have a detrimental effect on any learning outcomes for students,” he told the Banner.

Unpacking Madison’s budget

Madison Park is predicted to have 870-875 students enrolled next year, a slight dip from this year’s count of 903. School budgets are based on enrollment counts and assessment of additional per-student costs, such as the number of students needing special education services. With overall numbers dropping, Madison Park is receives less funding and will face staffing reductions.

According to BPS officials, Madison Park’s budget drops from $15.9 million this year to $14.9 million for fiscal year 2017.

Another factor: BPS reduced how much funds it allocates for special education students who have autism or social-emotional impairments. BPS’s Finance Office predicts that 36 percent of Madison Park students will have special needs in the upcoming school year, the majority (59 percent) high-severity. This demographic level is similar to the current school year 2016, where SPED students constituted 37.2 percent of enrollment.

But it is higher than that found at several of the state’s vocational technical high schools. Students with disabilities represented 28.4 percent of the student body at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute this 2015-2016 school year, 20.5 percent at Springfield’s Putnam Vocational Technical Academy and 14.6 percent at Worcester Technical High School.

McCaskill said staffing reductions largely will be in administrative positions and through not filling vacancies left by retirements.

“We try to make all cuts as far away from the classroom as we possibly can,” McCaskill said.

Full budget breakdown: $1 million of Madison Park’s 2017 budget stems from its turnaround status, $0.4 million is from Title 1 funding and a federal special education grant and $13.5 million from the city’s general fund, O’Brien said. The percent of the budget supplied by city general funds decreased by about 6 percent between FY16 and FY17: In FY16, general funds comprised approximately 96.2 percent of the school’s overall budget, compared to about 90.6 percent for FY17.

Some targeted new funding is on its way: The state is expected to announce on Thursday a $450,000 culinary arts program grant.

Assessing a voc-tech budget

Prior to 2015, BPS used the same formula to generate Madison Park’s budget as it did for other schools, according to WBUR. This practices ignores the high costs of equipment that can be expensive to acquire, as well as the necessity of smaller class sizes for classes in which students use potentially dangerous equipment.

As Dan Ferriera of Massachusetts Association of Vocational Technical Administrators put it in a conversation with the Banner, “You would not want your child with 30 kids, all of whom have welding torches.” And some individual pieces of equipment can costs as much as $50,000, he said.

Ideally, equipment is regularly updated or replaced, so that students train skills that will remain relevant when they enter their careers, he added.

“It behooves us as educators preparing for people for the world of work that they’re working on equipment that they’re going to see out on the job site, not equipment that was used ten years ago,” Ferriera said.

Formula falls short

The state uses a formula to establish the minimum budget a school needs, which is then underwritten by a combination of state and city funds. How much each party contributes depends on estimates of the city’s ability to pay, given its income and property values. Boston is regarded as a wealthy city and required to supply the majority of this base budget. Once the minimum is achieved, a city may, if it wish, provide schools further funding.

The base-budget formula does acknowledge that vocational technical students need more funding, and allocates an additional $4,100 for each student, according to Nathan Kuder, BPS deputy director of finance, in a phone interview with the Banner.

But the state’s formula falls short of meeting actual voc-tech needs, Kuder added, and so when the city funds Madison Park, it gives an additional ten percent on top of that budget.

“There is a vocational rate but it’s not adequate for supporting some of the programs at Madison Park,” Kuder said.

That ten percent still may be too low, Kuder acknowledged, given that costs vary widely by different programs and how many students are enrolled in each. For instance, culinary class and a carpentry class will have very different expenses. McCaskill has been working to better determine the costs associated with each program.

Louis Elisa, a member of Friends of Madison Park, said in the past the school has been underfunded for both its vocational tech and special education needs.

Across the Commonwealth

Some people, such as Friends of Madison Park’s Bob Marshall, have raised concerns that Madison Park’s budget is low compared to other voc-tech schools in the state.

However, according to BPS and the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, the comparison is not that simple. Outside of Boston, voc-tech schools are set up differently: These schools act as their own school districts, handling expenses that BPS’s funds centrally for Madison Park and its other schools, such as transportation and employee health care costs.

BPS did not have information on how Madison Park’s budget would look if it incorporated those expenses.

Recruitment

McCaskill said recruitment is a key part of growing Madison Park’s budget. The school has capacity for more students and with greater numbers enrolled, it would have the economy of scale to both better support current programs and add programs that are too expensive to provide for just a handful.

Kuder said they are also looking to find the proper sizing of program and staff ratios.