A bloc of city councilors is vowing to reject Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s first budget because of a cost-cutting measure that would eliminate yellow school buses for seventh- and eighth-graders and force the students to take MBTA buses and subways to school.
A final vote is scheduled for Wednesday, and at least six councilors have voiced significant skepticism. Walsh remained confident Tuesday that he could win a majority of seven votes to pass the spending plan, but his administration was pushing to negotiate a last-minute compromise and avoid a showdown.
“Without modification or changes, I would not be able to support it,” Councilor Tito Jackson said. “I think it’s really important that we make sure young people are able to get to and from school safely.”
The plan to give seventh- and eighth-graders T passes would save an estimated $8 million, according to the Walsh administration, but it has drawn criticism from some parents, who have expressed concern about travel on subways and public buses. Councilors are taking aim at the $975 million school budget, which requires a separate vote from the general operating budget for police, fire, and other city departments.
Other voices of opposition included Councilor Matt O’Malley, who described it as an “ill-conceived policy change.”
‘Without modification or changes, I would not be able to support it. I think it’s really important that we make sure young people are able to get to and from school safely.’
Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley said she will be “voting it down” unless the administration makes changes. Pressley also expressed frustration at how the administration has handled the issue.
“This was presented as a plan and not a proposal,” said Pressley. “There was not enough notice given. Impacted parties are not necessarily on board. And I question whether or not this can be safely and successfully implemented and whether or not it is sustainable.”
The standoff represented a test for Walsh, as the new mayor builds a relationship with the City Council, a legislative body with little overt power but one whose approval is necessary for the budget to pass.
Walsh has vowed a new era of cooperation. Earlier this month, after councilors objected, Walsh withdrew a proposal to waive the residency requirement for top city officials.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Walsh said “potentially there could be” changes to the school budget to placate concerns. The plan for T passes was initiated by the previous administration, Walsh said, and he “came into the discussion late.”
Walsh said that other major cities — including Sacramento, New York, and Chicago — send seventh- and eighth-graders to school on public transportation.
“I’m not worried about the budget passing,” Walsh said. “It’s a matter of do we have to make some adjustments. If we wanted to get that through, we’d get it through, but I’m hearing the concerns of folks. We’ll see if there is room for some changes if we need to.”
By late Tuesday afternoon, Walsh’s administration floated a compromise that would keep seventh-graders on yellow buses and have eighth-graders use the MBTA. The administration did not provide specifics about the compromise or how much money it would save.
It would not be enough for Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who said he did not want to “balance the budget on the backs of school children.”
Councilor Josh Zakim said he had not decided how he would vote on the school budget, but he was concerned that the T would not be able to handle the nearly 5,000 additional students during the morning rush.
Councilor Frank Baker said he would probably vote in favor of the proposed school budget and he did not want changes to the transportation plan to force deeper reductions in places that have already been cut.
“I’m concerned that if that $8 million goes back into transportation, where does it come out of?” Baker asked.
The city must adopt a spending plan before the new fiscal year begins July 1, leaving less than a week to reach a deal if the City Council does not pass the budget Wednesday.
“Every year, this stuff goes down to the last minute, and this year is no different,” Councilor at Large Stephen J. Murphy said. “I think I’m going to be OK with the School Department budget. I think the administration is going to move to meet us halfway.”