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Boston parents prepare to protest school budget cuts

Costs to run programs rising

Parents across Boston are mobilizing to protest possible budget cuts at their schools for the next academic year, writing letters to school and state officials, turning out at School Committee meetings, and starting a Facebook page to advocate for additional funding.

The possible cuts, which vary from school to school, include classroom aides and other positions, supplies and materials, and funding for specialized programs such as Playworks, which provides organized games and activities at recess as a supplement to physical education.

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One of the hardest-hit schools could be the Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain, which may have to reduce spending by $550,000. The plan calls for cutting 14 positions, including a music teacher, a bilingual parent coordinator, and community field coordinators who deal with discipline. “It’s going to be catastrophic, and not just at the Curley,” said Heshan Berents-Weeramuni, cochairman of the school site council at the Curley.

Dozens of parents are planning to turn out at Wednesday night’s School Committee meeting when interim Superintendent John McDonough is scheduled to officially unveil his budget proposal for the next school year, which is expected to be $973 million.

Although that spending plan represents a nearly 4 percent increase over this year’s budget, costs to maintain programs are rising at a faster clip, while state and federal aid is dropping by the millions.

The school system is also grappling with another complication. It over-projected enrollment at many schools for this school year, which means many of them will receive less per-student funding for next year.

Other city departments, such as fire and police, are worse off, having to cut spending by 1 percent next year, the Globe has reported.

“We are trying as hard as possible to protect teaching and learning,” said Brian Ballou, a School Department spokesman. He noted that just under half of the city’s schools will actually have higher budgets next school year.

Michael O’Neill, chairman of the School Committee, said he is looking forward to seeing the spending proposal, which the board will consider over the next month and a half.

“I understand parents’ concerns,” O’Neill said in an interview. “I’m really sensitive to that and the impact on individual schools and programs.”

It remains unclear the effect the tight budget could have on education initiatives Mayor Martin J. Walsh pushed on the campaign trail last fall, such as guaranteeing kindergarten seats for all 4-year-olds.

The school system issued a warning in December that many schools could experience budget cuts. Since then, the affected schools have been identifying potential cuts and in many cases consulting parents about them.

Parents at the Hurley K-8 School in the South End learned last week that the school might have to slash $200,000 in funding, said Megan Hastings, president of Neighborhood Parents for the Hurley School.

The school’s principal had previously been hopeful that the Hurley could avoid major cuts. Now, the school is facing the loss of two positions and funding for supplies and materials and a software program that teachers use to analyze student test scores and other data to help them adjust their instructional techniques.

“It's not like we are cutting art or music programs; those are things already paid for by parents,” Hastings said. “It’s already a lean budget. You can’t get leaner.”

The Mendell Elementary School in Roxbury is planning to ask parents to raise nearly $30,000 so it can keep two popular programs for next year: Playworks and a music program for its preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade students.

The Mendell will probably cut two classroom aides, also known as paraprofessionals. Those positions, parents say, are critical because the school is one of a few in the city that teaches students with significant special needs in the same classrooms as typically developing peers, a practice that requires extra adult supervision.

“We have amazing paraprofessionals who do a great job and are integral to the school community,” said Susan Field, cochairwoman of the Mendell’s parent council.

At the Boston Teachers Union K-8 Pilot School in Jamaica Plain, parents are bracing for their first major budget cuts, potentially an eighth of its budget, since opening five years ago.

“I have this sensation of having something stolen from us,” said Irena Fayngold, a parent. “We are a little traumatized.”

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

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect estimate of the number of Boston schools that could have higher budgets next year.

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