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In budget plans, Boston school leaders start to map out recovery

Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius stood in a classroom at Mather Elementary School in Dorchester in September 2020.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius revealed plans Wednesday to spend $1.3 billion on city schools next year, $36 million more than this year. Per pupil spending would rise to $23,500 from $22,000.

Nearly half of the additional funds will pay for approximately 175 new social workers and family liaisons to work at schools. And more than $18 million will go toward maintaining staff and programming at schools that have lost large numbers of students — and with them, state and federal dollars. The district wants to be prepared in case more students re-enroll once in-person instruction resumes more fully. And school leaders don’t want existing students to encounter a loss of services, including classes like art, music, or physical education.


“We wanted to plan for stability because our students have experienced enough instability this year,” said Boston Public Schools’ chief financial officer Nathan Kuder, in a meeting with reporters. “When we see what happens in the fall around enrollment, then we can have another discussion around [cutting capacity].”

As Boston tries to contain the fallout from the pandemic and months of remote learning, it’s also trying to balance the impact of the pandemic on the district’s bottom line. More than 2,300 students left the district this year, the largest enrollment drop in 15 years. At the same time, many students are expected to return for in-person classes months behind in their learning over the next several weeks; and for the foreseeable future, most schools have to meet the needs of both home and classroom-based learners.

School officials have said much of the enrollment decline is due to fewer new students moving to the district. However, families also transferred students to parochial and private schools in search of in-person classes. Some families with children under six, the age students have to legally be in school, opted to keep their children home or send them to private daycares.


“The district is in a challenging position,” said Will Austin, chief executive officer of Boston Schools Fund, a nonprofit that raises money to add student seats in high-demand Boston public, charter, and private schools and helps families assess schools. Maintaining positions and programs in schools that are losing enrollment is the right thing to do this year, he said. But it’s not without trade-offs: “There is less money to invest in other areas,” he said.

One area where Boston will need to invest is support to help students recover from what will be, for most students, more than a year of exclusively online school. One estimate by McKinsey & Company predicts Black and Latino students will end the academic year six to 12 months behind (compared with four to eight months for their white peers). Researchers estimate it will take anywhere from $1,600 to $2,500 per student for five years to make up for lost learning time and reverse the social emotional damage after a year of isolation and disrupted routines.

To address these problems, Cassellius plans to spend $4.5 million from federal coronavirus relief money on tutoring and summer and vacation programming, along with $5 million and $2.25 million in extra supports for students with disabilities and English learners, respectively. Cassellius expects the district will offer an enhanced, in-person summer school program that makes “creative” use of outdoor spaces.


“It’s going to take a provide for the academic support for our children,” said Cassellius, who said the district is looking for partners to help with tutoring in schools and is providing more professional development to teachers. “A big part of it is just good first instruction for children.”

The budget also includes $1.4 million to hire additional daytime custodial staff to “support the health and safety of students,” said Cassellius.

Cassellius will present the budget at Wednesday night’s school committee meeting. That board will vote on the budget on March 24.

Bianca Vázquez Toness can be reached at Follow her @biancavtoness.