Teachers, parents calling for more student supports
Declining budgets short-change students, activists say
While Boston Teachers Union leadership is in the midst of negotiations over pay raises and other matters with Boston Public Schools officials, outside the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building teachers and school staff rallied last Wednesday for more resources for the schools in which they teach.
“I came out because we need a full-time nurse in every single school,” said Anthony Mathieu, a history teacher at Boston Latin Academy.
Teacher Francis Pina wants to see more inclusion specialists in Boston Public Schools classrooms so that students with disabilities can keep up with the regular education classes in which they learn, including his Charlestown High School math class.
While many teachers are certified to teach in special education classrooms as well as in regular education rooms, attempting to do both simultaneously shortchanges the special education students, Pina says.
“They’re not getting the specialized support and the minutes of instruction they’re required to get by law,” he said.
For kindergarten teacher Peejay Clarke, supplies such as markers, paper, glue and paint for his K2 classroom at the Martin Luther King K-8 School would be a good place to start.
“I just spent $250 last week,” he said.
Clarke estimates he has spent more than $700 of his own money on supplies this year.
Joining the teachers in their rally were City Councilors Kim Janey and Annissa Essaibi-George and state Rep. Nika Elugardo.
The teachers’ rally comes as the Boston School Committee prepares for a March 27 vote on the $1.139 billion budget, which has increased 2 percent over last year. While interim BPS Superintendent Laura Perille uses the oft-repeated “largest-ever budget” descriptor for this year’s allocation, education activists point out that more the half the district’s 126 schools are being forced to make cuts.
According to an analysis by parent activist Kristen Johnson, 30 schools are seeing their budgets cut, 20 have had their budgets level-funded and another 27 have received increases that do not keep pace with rising costs.
Although principals are given autonomy in staffing decisions, when faced with the decision between cutting teaching positions and cutting paraprofessionals, counselors, nurses, librarians and other staff, the principals’ hands are effectively tied.
In their fight for a new contract, the Boston Teachers Union, which also represents non-teaching staff, is seeking funding sufficient for every school to have librarians, nurses, counselors and other staff who help ensure the social-emotional wellbeing of students.
“We are hoping that the City of Boston approves a new contract with the Boston Teachers Union that rectifies the gaping holes in our social and emotional staff and recognizes that student well-being is not optional,” said BTU President Jessica Tang.
The BTU demands dovetail with those of the Boston Coalition for Education Equity, a group that includes the NAACP Boston Branch, Lawyers for Civil Rights, JP Progressives and Citizens for Public Schools.
Coalition members, testifying at the Boston School Committee meeting happening as the teachers rallied outside, echoed the union’s call for more support staff and student services.
“Why do our families need to ask for basic educational components that are available to nearly every suburban district that borders our city?” said Ruby Reyes, executive director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance, which is funded by the BTU.
Reyes spoke out against the district’s strict adherence to a weighted student funding formula, which ties funding to each student, cutting funds when enrollment at a school is projected to decline. Because the costs of running a school don’t decline along with dips in enrollment, schools that lose even a handful of students are often forced to cut programming and services.
Those cuts then make the school less desirable, leading to an even greater decline in enrollment — a vicious cycle that can ultimately close a school. Reyes echoed past calls for a basic foundation budget for each school.
“Begin by deciding on the components of a quality education that BPS will provide every student,” Reyes said. “Give each school the funds it needs to provide that education. Then include extra money for children who face extra challenges, the justification for weighted student funding. But guarantee that every student receives the core components of a quality education.”