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Budgets shrink at 49 Boston public schools

Many struggling schools hit, recovery plans may feel effect

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Budgets shrink at 49 Boston public schools
Boston Latin Academy is slated to receive about $151,750 less under next year’s Boston Public Schools budget.

Boston’s struggling Brighton High School will lose about $1 million under the latest Boston Public Schools budget proposal, according to school department data. Brighton is far from alone: 48 other schools also face funding declines of varying amounts.

“I’m terrified as to what these cuts are going to do to my school,” said Hibo Moallim, a Brighton High senior and member of the Boston Student Advisory Council, in a Banner phone interview. While her school has yet to announce how it will try to absorb the loss, she said already there are too few teachers and resources.

On the web

BPS data. See page 34 for school-level budget comparisons: http://tinyurl.com/htcagv4

“It seems a little bizarre that [budget cuts] are an every-year thing,” Moallim said. “This is not what we deserve.”

Moallim said Advanced Placement classes are packed, with too few teachers; computers need improvements; some classes lack textbooks; and that reduced funding threatens closure of the library or reduced support for English as a Second Language students.

The Brighton school also is slated to lose most of its teaching staff, as part of BPS’ plan to reverse its Level 4 “underperforming” status. Many, however, say that money needs to be put in, not taken out.

“How can a school be expected to improve, when they are being given less resources to do it?” wrote Kristin Johnson, member of the Citywide Parent Council, on her blog, Boston Political Education.

Brighton’s percentage of English Language Learners and students on independent education plans is among the highest in the state, and the school’s homeless student population is among the highest in Boston, states Kristen Leathers, an ESL 3 teacher, in a guest post on education activist Jennifer’ Berkshires’ “Have You Heard” blog.

For many schools, this is a budget contraction following upon years of shortfalls. Individual school budgets are constructed based on the number of students enrolled and the need category they fall into, such as special education or low-income status. Last fiscal year, the city reduced per pupil funding allotments for children with autism and socioemotional needs. Johnson attributes this year’s budget reductions for some schools to their declining enrollments.

Moallim said her school’s low test scores reflect not lack of teaching skill but mismatched expectations and the challenges of serving students with complex needs. Teachers are expected to, within one year, prepare students who lack literacy in their home languages to get high scores on standardized tests, she said.

“Firing teachers because they are quote, unquote not ‘performing well’ and not teaching us — how are they supposed to teach us if we’re down on teachers, down on staff, if we don’t have enough opportunities and resources that other schools may have?” Moallim said. “All these budget cuts, us losing our teachers, what’s the district’s agenda? What do they want with us? Are they trying to shut down our schools?”

Schools face reductions

The budget decreases vary by school, ranging from a 1 percent reduction over last year’s budget (at several schools to a nearly 21 percent reduction (more than $1 million) at the McCormack, according to BPS data. In sheer dollar amounts, Jackson Mann, McCormack and Madison Park lose the most, with reductions of more than $1 million each. (Brighton is losing $994,817, according to BPS).

According to CPC member Johnson, the Burke High School, which pulled out of Level 4 status in 2014, is expected to lose a librarian, English teacher, math teacher and para-professional. She states that Excel High, labeled Level 4 in 2016, will lose its librarian, as will Brighton High and Charleston High. Last year, Charlestown was slated to lose its celebrated Diploma Plus program designed to get struggling teens back on track, until Liberty Mutual stepped forward with private funding.

McCormack Middle School is expected to continue its ten-year run without a librarian.

The Dever, a bilingual school in Dorchester and one of Boston’s two Level 5 schools, will lose about $650,000 in its next budget, according to BPS. The Dever’s student population was about 88 percent low-income in school year 2014-2015.

Turnaround spiral

Out of Boston’s eight Level 4 schools, six face funding reductions: Madison Park, Channing, Winthrop, Dorchester Academy, Brighton and Grew. Level 4 schools are required to undertake significant redesign plans; if they fail to improve performance after three years, they may be taken over by the state.

Kristin Leathers writes that money should be consciously funneled into such schools.

“The system is broken. It is structured so that the most vulnerable students with the highest needs are funneled into schools with dwindling resources. Then, when these students struggle, the schools are taken over,” she writes.

In some cases, a painful cycle occurs. Parents are less likely to select underperforming schools for their children, so unless the city can turn those schools around, their enrollment declines. With the enrollment drop off, funding declines as well, preventing the school from investing in extra initiatives or supply new resources that could help improve their status and stem enrollment declines

Pointing to this problem, Kristin Johnson suggests the need for focused infusion on turnaround schools.

“Because these cuts are related to decline in enrollment in a choice-based system, a correlation must be drawn between a school’s DESE level and their desirability to BPS families,” Johnson writes. “We must consider supplemental funding interventions for schools in which higher DESE levels have a detrimental impact on funding as a result.”

BPS at large

As 49 schools face reductions, some other BPS schools are slated for budget boosts. Among the highest-dollar recipients are Henderson Elementary (gaining more than $1 million), Boston Arts Academy (gaining about $669,000) and Kennedy Health Careers (gaining about $540,000). In terms of percent budget growth, Shaw Elementary tops the list with a 22 percent budget increase, according to BPS data.

City Councilor and mayoral challenger Tito Jackson says the BPS budget — $20 million in general budget and another $20 million for collective bargaining with the Boston Teachers Union, with any use of any remainder to be determined by the city council — is too low to meet inflation and rising union personnel costs in the overall system.

“The budget as a whole does not meet the inflationary costs that are already built in,” he told the Banner.

Weighing protests

Moallim noted that outcry has been muted this year, compared to last year’s headline-grabbing walkouts. In part, she said, it could be due to lessened publication on the situation and to the distraction of national politics.

Recently, Mayor Martin Walsh asked BSAC to create a ten-member student advisory group to make suggestions on the budget, in order to prevent another walkout, Moallim said. BSAC members met with Walsh two weeks ago about forming the group.

“His whole point was he didn’t want us to walk out again,” Moallim said.

While she hopes the group will be listened to, Moallim said it seems redundant to the Mayor’s Youth Council.

“He has a group of different students who represent different parts of the neighborhood, so we were shocked when he asked us,” she said. “Whatever he’s asking us, that’s basically their job.”

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