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Boston schools face $50 million budget shortfall

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The district’s deficit is a result of increasing expenses and decreasing federal and state aid, Superintendent Tommy Chang said Tuesday.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools faces a budget deficit of up to $50 million for the coming fiscal year, as expenses increase and federal and state aid to the School Department declines, Superintendent Tommy Chang said Tuesday.

Chang, in a letter to parents, pledged that no schools would close due to the shortfall. But he said $20 million will be cut from the central office budget and $10 million to $12 million more will be saved by trimming the per-student funding formula, affecting the budgets of individual schools.

"Closing schools must be a deliberate process based on equity of access and student needs," the superintendent said in the two-page letter. Long-term decisions about school facilities should wait until the completion of an ongoing facilities master plan, he said.


"We do not want to move forward with any dramatic changes absent that input, which includes the deep engagement of our community in the coming year," he said.

Chang said that "a sizable gap" remains despite changes to school enrollments and programs that will further impact school budgets.

As the School Department prepared its annual budget early last year, it faced a nearly identical deficit of an estimated $42 million to $51 million, leading then-interim superintendent John McDonough to propose five school closures and other cost-saving measures. Ultimately, two schools were closed.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Tuesday night that city officials would work with the school department to support current programs and services while investing in new initiatives.

"Mayor Walsh is proud of his continued investments in Boston Public Schools, from extended learning time to early childhood education to hiring high-quality teachers," Laura Oggeri, the spokeswoman, said in a statement. "And, despite declining external revenues, the City of Boston anticipates providing unprecedented financial support for BPS in the upcoming fiscal year.


Oggeri said the deficit reflects "new investments prioritized by the department" and that other cost-saving measures can be found. Though it falls short of meeting rising costs, the coming budget is likely to be even higher than this year's record $1.014 billion allocation.

Tuesday's letter provoked concern among many parents, said Kenny Jervis, who represents the Clap Innovation School in Dorchester on the Citywide Parent Council.

Jervis said significant cuts were coming to the Clap School, which his son attends, and even to Boston Latin School, one of the city's prestigious exam schools, where his daughter is a student.

"The cuts are widespread and detrimental to a sustainable school, in many cases," Jervis said.

At the Clap School, he said, at least $150,000 will be cut.

"This does not provide us with the opportunity to provide the students and the staff with the supports they need to create a program that's equitable," he said.

Systemwide, the cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1 could be a "breaking point" that would force many Boston families to consider leaving the city, Jervis suggested.

Although the city has increased the budget appropriation for schools by $13.5 million for this year, salary and benefit increases for the School Department are running to $21 million, on top of unforeseen expenses and "investments in core operations, past commitments, and strategic priorities," Chang said.

"While the city has continued to invest in the education of our youth, rising expenses are outpacing current revenue sources," he said.


"The projected funding increase will not cover the full cost of our programs and services," Chang continued, "especially given our commitment to important investments such as, early childhood education, the hiring of high-quality, diverse teachers and extended learning time."

He said School Department officials met with Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Monday to discuss the financial shortfall and the pursuit of additional support through grants, state funds, and partnerships.

A public discussion of the deficit will begin at the Feb. 3 School Committee meeting, Chang said, and continue with a series of public hearings in February and March. The School Committee is set to approve a new budget by March 23.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.