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Boston School Committee approves $934.6m budget

The Boston School Committee unanimously approved Wednesday night a $934.6 million budget for the next school year that strives to bolster school quality and accommodate a rise in student enrollment.

The budget represents a 7 percent increase in funding over this school year’s amount and follows several years of tight finances.

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“This is an investment in the future,” Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said before the vote, noting that the money would go a long way in turning around low-achieving schools, helping students excel in the classroom, and developing new school leaders.

The budget now heads to Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who will present it to the City Council next month as part of his city spending proposal for next year.

Sam Tyler — president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a watchdog group funded by businesses and nonprofits — said that the 7 percent increase was generous and that other city departments would not see a hike anywhere near that amount.

“That is extraordinary in this year, which is not a good budget year,” Tyler said.

The rise in spending comes as the School Department is preparing for an additional 1,200 students next year, which should push enrollment over 58,000.

“This will be the highest enroll­ment since 2005,” said John McDonough, the School Department’s chief financial ­officer.

About half of the enrollment rise is due to an increase in young children being diagnosed with severe special needs. Under state and federal laws, such children are eligible to enter public schools as soon as they turn 3.

The rest of the enrollment increase, concentrated heavily in the lower grades, reflects a growing number of families in the city with young children.

The boom in population of special education and regular education students has officials scouring schools across the city to bring an additional 75 classrooms on line.

Next year’s budget follows through on a commitment Menino made earlier this year to improve school quality, the centerpiece of a new student assign­ment plan recently ­approved by the School Committee. That commitment ­includes spending $30 million more over the next three years to help turn around low-
achieving schools.

In a separate vote, the school board hired a new bus company to oversee the daily operation of the School Department’s more than 700 buses. Veolia Transportation of Lombard, Ill., will take over the operation July 1.

More than 20 people spoke during Wednesday’s public comment period. Several students and parents from Boston Arts Academy presented a petition of more than 900 signatures that urged the School Depart­ment to seek state funding to renovate their school.

Councilor at Large John R. Connolly, who is running for mayor, voiced his support for the state funding.

A number of students from the Community Academy of Science and Health pleaded with the board not to move their school to a different building, as the School Department seeks to expand the size of ­another school that it currently shares a building with in Dorchester.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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