Parents, students, and teachers packed the Boston School Committee hearing room Wednesday night, with nearly 100 testifying for three and a half hours in opposition to planned budget cuts, as Superintendent Tommy Chang prepared to present a new spending plan proposal.
The revised budget, which will top $1 billion for the second year in a row, restores high school funding but maintains cuts to special education and early learning programs. It includes about $32 million in reductions, down from the $38 million initially proposed, as Chang delays $6 million in planned new investments, officials said Wednesday.
That $6 million will be allocated to high schools, allowing most to maintain current staffing levels, officials also said.
In addition, the School Department plans to restore about $700,000 of $1.6 million that Chang had planned to cut from funds used to extend the school day at five early-education centers and early-learning centers.
“These are difficult tradeoffs we have to make,” Chang said of the cuts.
The additional funds did not satisfy many parents of preschoolers, who said they had only learned this week that the School Department planned to cut their programs. Young students packed the meeting and overflowed into the hallway, alongside their parents, some carrying signs that read, “Fully fund our schools” and “Stop budget cuts.”
Laura Snyder of Dorchester, whose 5-year-old son, Judah attends the West Zone Early Learning Center in Jamaica Plain, said it “makes no logical sense” that the district plans to make cuts to a program so successful that other city schools are emulating it.
“The extended-day model provides an extensive and complete education for the children physically, mentally, and academically,” Snyder said.
Dozens of high school students also spoke, some saying that the revised budget still does not fully fund their schools and guarantee that programs, resources, and teaching jobs will be preserved.
“It’s insulting to me that I have to sit here and tell you to prioritize our education,” said an angry Falianne Forges, 16, a Boston Latin Academy sophomore from Mattapan. “It’s insulting to me that you would even dare to bring a budget cut in front of us. It’s insulting to me that schools are losing librarians, are losing AP courses.”
The district also still plans to trim $5 million in special-education staffing by decreasing allotments for children with autism, emotional impairments, and those in inclusive school settings who have unidentified disabilities, according to district documents.
Many students, parents, and teachers have opposed all proposed cuts, speaking at past School Committee budget hearings, signing an online petition, and marching to the State House and to City Hall. More than 1,000 Boston public school students walked out of classes on March 7 and marched downtown to protest the proposed reductions.
Amid the opposition, Chang and Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Friday that they would restore the money planned to be cut from high schools.
But several speakers on Wednesday insisted that the walkout was not just about restoring high school budgets but was a demand that all the city’s schools be fully funded.
The $6 million cut from the district’s new initiatives will postpone implementation of a $1.1 million pilot program to expand access to rigorous course work for fourth-graders. It will also reduce by $1 million the $4 million that had been planned for expansion of preschool seats in the district. The remaining $3 million will create 200 preschool seats, officials said.
But Chang said he is confident that additional state and federal money will become available this spring and allow him to reinstate the initiatives.
The revised budget proposal maintains most of the cuts that Chang proposed last month, including $10 million from the transportation budget, which is expected to be achieved through streamlined operations and routing. It will also trim $13.2 million from centrally budgeted school services, including the district’s early hiring initiative, partnerships with outside organizations, and educational programs during school vacation weeks.
The School Committee is set to vote on a budget next Wednesday.