Parents hold mock meeting as School Committee votes on budget
Boston Public Schools parents and students marched from the Blackstone School in the South End to the School Committee chamber in the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building last Wednesday, where they occupied the seats and tables reserved for the body and the district’s interim superintendent.
For about a half-hour, the group held a mock school committee meeting, advocating for a budget they said would fully fund schools.
“Rather than create a Hunger Games situation where some schools win and some schools lose and some students receive a great education and some students don’t, we the school committee are committed to listening to the community and providing a quality education for all,” said Blackstone parent Alexandra Olivero.
During the mock school committee meeting, before the city’s appointed committee members convened to vote unanimously in favor of the district’s 2020 school year budget, parents from the Blackstone and other schools due to receive budget cuts shared their vision for the district.
“We will provide every school with guidance counselors, a nurse and enough social emotional support to meet every student’s need,” said Blackstone parent Sarah Byrd.
“We will fund arts programs, music, technology and sports at every school,” added parent Kevin Murray.
The parents in the mock school committee meeting and others who testified during the regularly scheduled meeting represented schools receiving cuts to many of the programs for which they were advocating.
District 1 City Councilor Lydia Edwards said schools in her district, which includes East Boston, Charlestown and the North End, are losing a total of $2.6 million in funding, including a $1.2 million cut to East Boston High School.
Edwards said the cuts to schools in East Boston are due to the departure of students whose families are being displaced from the neighborhood, the weighted student funding system that ties funding to individual students, and a budget that isn’t keeping pace with the district’s costs.
“It’s not like that money is being reshuffled within the school district,” Edwards told the Banner. “It’s not going to Dorchester, where schools are also getting cuts. And it’s not following East Boston students into Revere, where their families have moved.”
Edwards echoed the parents’ demands for basic funding for the non-teaching positions, such as librarians, nurses and paraprofessionals, which are often the first cut as school budgets decline.
“All of these are vital to a student’s education,” she told the Banner. “We need a baseline understanding of what schools need to be functional.”
During the School Committee meeting, BPS Chief Financial Officer Eleanor Laurans noted that the district has shifted funds from schools with declining enrollments to those with increases. She also noted that the district works with schools facing declining enrollment to help consolidate costs and also offers “soft-landing funds” to cushion the impact of the cuts.
“Our focus is always on trying to help the schools,” she said.
Megan Doran, a Sumner School parent who participated in the mock school committee meeting, said the $200,000 cut her school is facing could wreak havoc. Although the school is projected to lose enrollment next year, because the 600-student school has different strands, including ESL students and students with disabilities, cutting any single one of the school’s five separate strands would be impossible.
“They don’t fund classrooms, which is what they need to do,” she told the Banner. “It’s not like we have five strands of regular education and we could consolidate.”
East Boston High School Family Center Coordinator Nina Gaeta told the Banner the school will likely see 13 positions cut, including special education paraprofessionals and ESL teachers.
“They’re going to have to maximize class sizes,” she said. “It makes no sense, especially when the city has so much money from all the new development.”
While School Committee members voted unanimously to approve the budget, for Blackstone parent Suleika Soto, the takeover was a small victory. School committee members, who were in an executive meeting during the takeover, were not in the chamber. But Soto says she felt heard.
“Normally, you come in, you testify, and you don’t get the feeling they’re listening,” she said of the School Committee members. “You don’t get feedback. You don’t feel like your voice is being heard. That’s why we did what we did today.”