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Mayor will recommit to boosting schools in State of the City

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Following his speech in 2015, Mayor Martin J. Walsh will now discuss economic development and a data-driven government.
Following his speech in 2015, Mayor Martin J. Walsh will now discuss economic development and a data-driven government.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh will recommit Tuesday to lifting up Boston Public Schools to ensure "every child has an opportunity to succeed" and appeal to the public to join him in achieving that goal, according to highlights from his State of the City speech released to the Globe.

But as the mayor returns to Symphony Hall for a second year to outline his vision for the city, several parents with children in the embattled school system plan to hoist signs and chant in protest of the job Walsh has done with public education so far.

The parents are taking aim at another year of multimillion-dollar budget cuts proposed by his administration. They say the proposed measures would trim teachers, librarians, and language courses such as Japanese. It would also crush some schools' accreditation prospects and hurt programs targeting students with autism or suffering from emotional trauma, they contend.

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"This is the breaking point,'' said Mary Lewis-Pierce, a Jamaica Plain parent helping to lead Tuesday's protest. "I'm very concerned. I'm seeing cuts at my children's school."

Walsh and Superintendent Tommy Chang pointed to extended learning time, early childhood education, and newly hired high-quality teachers as key investments in the public schools. Despite declining revenues, they said, the city anticipates providing "unprecedented financial support" for the School Department in the coming fiscal year.

This year's budget appropriation of $1.027 billion represents a $13.5 million increase over last year and is the city's largest-ever appropriation for the School Department, officials said.

"The city looks forward to working with BPS to find the right balance of continued support for existing programming and services, with investments in new initiatives as they move through the budget process," the mayor said in a statement.

During Tuesday evening's speech, the mayor will tackle economic development and his data-driven approach to government. He plans to trumpet his economic vision that he says led to General Electric's decision to relocate its global headquarters in the Seaport District. It is a move "that further solidifies Boston's place in the 21st century global economy, and empowers our workers and employers already here," the highlights said.

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Walsh will note international focus on Boston over the past two years for establishing CityScore, which officials said was a first-of-its-kind, data-driven scoring system for city government, the highlights said.

The mayor will deliver his speech to an expected audience of 2,500 at Symphony Hall. The city is paying $27,000 to the hall to cover rent and production costs.

Last year, amid much pomp and fanfare, Walsh posited a theme of a thriving, healthy, and innovative city. Now at the halfway mark of his first term, he will discuss progress he has made thus far, such as launching the first citywide plan in 50 years, exceeding ambitious housing goals, and achieving the lowest crime rate in years, according to the speech highlights.

Walsh will also address public education, an issue that was a significant focus of his election campaign and made a key focus during his first State of the City address last year. On Tuesday, the mayor plans to urge Bostonians to join him in a conversation on how to best serve students and create a stronger school system.

But as the mayor delivers his speech, several parents are planning to protest his proposed budget deficit of up to $50 million in the School Department.

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Chang had said that while expenses have increased, federal and state funding to the School Department has been declining.

The superintendent promised that no schools would close as a result of the shortfall, the Globe reported, but he said that $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.

Some of those schools have had declining enrollment, officials said.

The mayor said the potential budget gap does not yet identify all possible efficiencies and takes into account new investments prioritized by the department. Chang said the central office and school leaders are vigorously working on strategic budget decisions.

"The reality is that rising expenses are outpacing current revenue sources," Chang said in a statement. "Despite this, I am confident that Boston Public Schools will continue investing in key strategic initiatives to close achievement gaps and ensure equity throughout the system."

The parents planning to protest said that during Walsh's first two years in office, public schools have seen about $140 million in budget cuts. The cuts, they said, would devastate the high schools and special education services.

Lewis-Pierce, the Jamaica Plain parent, said her daughter attends Boston Teachers Union School, which has already lost a pair of teachers in the past two years and a Spanish teacher the year before that because of budget cuts. Parents have had to raise money to pay for the school's only sports coach, raising $40,000 this year because of a financial crunch.

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Lewis-Pierce said the mayor just doesn't get it.

"He doesn't seem to be taking this seriously," Lewis-Pierce said. "He doesn't seem to think that things are that wrong with the schools."

Heshan Berents-Weeramuni, one of four co-chairs of the revived Citywide Parent Council, said parents, headmasters, and teachers voiced concerns over the cuts at a recent education town hall meeting and have been sharing their objections in letters to the city's budget office.

"Parents are feeling very upset that [Walsh] is not supportive of the school system he's obliged to be looking out for," Berents-Weeramuni said. "They don't feel that he's understanding of the tremendous challenges that our children face every single day in trying to get an adequate education."

Gloria West of Dorchester said teachers at Boston Community Leadership Academy in Hyde Park have been extremely supportive of her daughter who suffers with dyslexia.

The school offers a rigorous college preparatory program and the cuts proposed include eliminating four teaching posts and gym classes, said West, who serves on the school's governing board.

"BCLA has been accredited. It's recognized nationally," West said. "Looking at these budget cuts, BCLA will be losing an administrative staff, a substitute teacher, and a librarian. Who is going to order the books? What's the point of having a library if you don't have a librarian?"

Barbara Rosa, another Dorchester parent, said she worries about the prospect for accreditation at Snowden International School, where her 16-year-old son is a student.

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Over the past few weeks, Rosa said the school site council learned of a proposal to trim the budget. The cuts could include losing the librarian and a math teacher, and trimming the part-time guidance counselor's post. The proposal might also include removing Japanese from the curriculum — which hit Rosa hard, she said.

"That is why I signed up [my son] for the school," Rosa said.

She said that without a math teacher to teach calculus, a librarian to manage the books, and a solid language program, the school could be in jeopardy of not getting its accreditation. Last week, she read a portion of the site council's letter of objection to the cuts to the School Committee, she said.

"The people on the upper echelon don't know how personal these cuts are unless you tell them about it. All they see is dollars and cents," said Rosa, who plans to join Tuesday's protest. "I'm not protesting cuts to arts. . . . I'm protesting because we will be losing things that we are supposed to have."


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.