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Boston schools budget would cut jobs, reduce bus service

Boston Interim Superintendent John McDonough Wednesday night presented a balanced budget for the next school year that calls for cutting about 120 central office positions and slashing bus rides for seventh- and eighth-graders.

The $973 million spending plan, which requires School Committee approval, would also eliminate nearly 250 teachers, classroom aides, and other school-based positions.

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Under the busing cuts, seventh- and eighth-graders who would have qualified for rides will instead receive MBTA passes.

The School Department also intends to try out the MBTA option with sixth-graders on a voluntary basis. Any sixth-grader who wants to ride the bus, however, would be able to get a seat. The change would affect more than 4,500 students.

“We believe this is the best for our schools and students, and it puts us in a strategic position so we don’t have to go elsewhere in the budget for savings,” McDonough said in an interview. But, he added, “We need to ensure families [that] we are able to provide safe and reliable transportation regardless of the mode of transportation.”

The proposal, presented at a School Committee meeting Wednesday night, represents a revision of a similar proposal unveiled earlier this month. The biggest difference is that the budget is now balanced and offers greater details about where the spending cuts would occur.

Dozens of parents and students turned out for the presentation, and many spoke out against the cuts.

“I’m here to urge the mayor and the state to fund things that work,” said Susan Field, a parent from the Mendell Elementary School in Roxbury.

Laura Buckmaster, a student in the adult education program, pleaded with the School Committee to restore money for the program, which is losing all city funding and will have to rely on minimal grant dollars.

“The adult education program is my hope,” said Buckmaster, who shared a personal story about how the program has helped her learn how to read. “It’s a light in the community. . . . Please find a way to fund the program.”

The cuts are being made even though school spending is expected to increase by nearly 4 percent next year, thanks to additional funding by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who is directing other departments to reduce budgets. The increase in school spending, however, is not enough to keep pace with rising salaries and other costs, along with a reduction in federal and state aid.

To balance the budget, the School Department had to cut $107 million. McDonough, in an effort to minimize cuts to individual schools, is overhauling and consolidating several departments in the central office, yielding $39 million in savings. He said the School Department is identifying exactly which of the 120 positions will be cut, but said most would likely be managerial. There are roughly 800 positions in the central office.

Switching the seventh- and eighth-graders to T passes makes up the majority of $11 million in transportation savings identified. Tapping T passes for students in those grade levels is not new. The passes are already used by approximately 1,800 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders from about nine schools, including Boston Latin School in the Fenway, Dearborn Middle School in Roxbury, and the TechBoston Academy in Dorchester.

Hardin Coleman, a school board member, urged officials to examine the change’s impact on attendance and tardiness.

The School Department is also proposing to cut shuttle bus service to and from MBTA stations to high schools within a mile away. That would affect nearly all of the large high school complexes, except West Roxbury’s.

Debate over spending cuts has been growing loud, as parents organize across the city.

Driving many school cuts is overprojections for enrollment this school year that caused the School Department to open classrooms that turned out to be unnecessary. Correcting this problem will result in about $11 million in savings.

Susanne Bartlett, cochair of the school-parent council at the Roger Clap Innovation School in Dorchester, voiced frustration that the school lost its art/science room for a kindergarten classroom this year that ultimately enrolled four students. Now the school faces spending cuts after making what Bartlett called tremendous strides.

“This may break us,” she said.

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