Boston school budget seeks more preschool seats
Boston’s School Department plans to create hundreds of new preschool seats and offer rigorous course work to a broader group of elementary school students in next year’s budget, even as schools lose positions and reduce other programs, officials said Wednesday.
The budget plan presented to the School Committee on Wednesday night is the first overseen by Superintendent Tommy Chang.
The proposal represents a $13.5 million increase, for a record budget of more than $1 billion, as total education spending exceeds the appropriations for the city’s other 39 departments combined, said David Sweeney, the city’s chief financial officer.
But that increase is not enough to pay for both $11 million in planned new spending and a $38 million increase in costs, of which more than half come from rising salaries and benefits.
Chang reassured families Wednesday that, despite the deficit, his team remains focused on ensuring “equitable quality and access to a high-quality education.”
“It is our goal, absolutely, to budget for the success of all students,” Chang said.
The deficit has provoked outrage among those who say the city should devote more resources to public education.
Dozens of students, parents, and educators addressed the School Committee for more than an hour at the meeting, saying that Advanced Placement, foreign language, and credit recovery courses would be cut and teaching positions lost under the proposed budget.
Some became emotional as they compared money for public schools to funding for jails, where poorly educated children could wind up. Others pointed to the up to $145 million in incentives offered to General Electric by city and state officials to lure the corporation to Boston, asking why such funds were not available for education.
Christopher Hoeh, father of an 11-grade student at a Boston public school, exhorted the School Committee to align itself with city families.
“Join with the students, parents, teachers, and community members and demand that Mayor [Martin J.] Walsh focus on children,” Hoeh said. “Boston has the money. You can make a difference. Join with us. Stand with us.”
Grace Evans, a teacher at Boston Community Leadership Academy, was part of a large contingent of educators and students who spoke of how the cuts would hurt the school, which offers support for students who have struggled at other schools and those with special needs.
“These cuts will hurt BCLA, but they will also hurt Boston,” she said. “We need to say enough is enough.”
Some committee members also balked at the proposed cuts.
“I think we need to say that this is unacceptable,” said Miren Uriarte, who said the budget would make it impossible to achieve the district’s goal of closing achievement gaps between white and minority students.
Amid the cuts, the plan includes $4 million in new spending to add 200 to 300 preschool seats and $1.6 million to lengthen the school day.
It also adds $1.1 million for a pilot program offering rigorous course work and enrichment activities — such as those available through advanced classes — for 500 to 750 fourth-grade students who have not tested into the program.
To address the shortfall, the School Department plans to cut about $25.5 million from central departments, and about half that amount from school budgets, officials said.
The district plans to save money through cuts in transportation costs, by reducing central staff, and by ending a vacation buy-back program.
Items considered for reducing transportation costs include cutting $1 million for vehicle replacement, using new routing methods, and extending the length of bus rides.
The expected savings at individual schools come largely from switching most high schools from six to seven periods — a move that will require teachers to teach one more class each day and will save about $7 million — and changes to allocations for each student, Sweeney said.