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    Boston public schools ask for modest increase in spending

    Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang said the core mission of the budget is to ensure all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, can be successful in college and other endeavors.
    Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2016
    Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang said the core mission of the budget is to ensure all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, can be successful in college and other endeavors.

    Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang is proposing only a slight increase in school spending for next year, pushing overall spending to $1.1 billion and allowing for the expansion of a few initiatives, such as those for homeless students and young men of color.

    The proposal represents an additional $16.5 million in spending over this year’s budget, about a 1.5 percent increase. School officials said the percentage is low for next school year because the school system and the teachers union are negotiating a new contract and it is not yet known how much of a raise teachers will receive for the next fiscal year.

    Chang said the core mission of the budget is to ensure all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, can be successful in college and other endeavors.

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    “We need to make sure the learning experience is culturally relevant, that we are focused on our most marginalized students, that are our schools are safe, welcoming, and sustaining for young people who come into our doors every single day,” Chang said.

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    The budget proposal specifically calls for a $500,000 increase in funding to help homeless students, bringing overall spending to $1.8 million. It also calls for expanding, from four schools to seven, a program that provides young men of color with counseling and mentoring.

    The presentation of the budget comes after Mayor Martin J. Walsh blasted the state this week for providing the school system with less aid — a two-decade trend.

    State aid is expected to cover just 4 percent of the school system’s budget next year because of more students attending charter schools. The state funnels so-called Chapter 70 educational aid earmarked for Boston to the charter schools to cover tuition costs. Next year, nearly all of the $219 million in Chapter 70 for Boston will end up at charters.

    Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said the teachers union will lobby the Legislature to ensure Boston gets the state funding it deserves.

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    “Too many of our schools lack adequate staffing including nurses, librarians, social workers, and teachers,” Tang said in a statement. “The governor’s budget fails public education students, and we are calling on the Legislature to rectify that because the consequences are being felt painfully in Boston right now.”

    School officials initially said Wednesday that the new budget increases spending by $48 million. But that number includes $31 million in raises that teachers received during this school year. (School officials justified including that amount in the increase for next year because the raises were negotiated with the teachers union under an interim agreement after the School Committee approved this year’s budget, resulting in the city providing a supplemental appropriation. The agreement expires in August.)

    The school system is changing the way it distributes funds for some outside programs that had been paid for directly by the central offices, handing over $5.8 million to schools with the highest-need students so they can decide how to spend it.

    The proposed change is already creating waves. About half of the 40 schools partnering with the Boston Debate League will no longer have access to the funds — including the Irving and Edwards middle schools — and might have to scrap their debate teams.

    Mike Wasserman, executive director of the Boston Debate League, said his organization supports giving schools more control of partnership funds but wishes it did not result in other schools losing funding for the program.

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    “I think we have built something powerful,” Wasserman said. “We provide students the opportunity to lead conversations and talk about real policy issues that are rooted in facts.”

    Only about 15 of the system’s 125 schools will experience notable drops in per-pupil funding because of declining enrollment, school officials said.

    Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a watchdog group funded by businesses and nonprofits, said the budget proposal shows signs of reining in some costs, such as transportation, which is slated to go up by about 3 percent. Previously, annual increases have exceeded 10 percent.

    But he said more needs to be done to address excess capacity in schools with declining enrollment.

    “It looks like this is a budget that has taken some drama out of school spending,” Tyler said.

    James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.