Proposed Boston schools budget would overhaul science instruction
Interim Superintendent Laura Perille is proposing a $1.14 billion budget for the next school year, a modest increase that would allow the Boston school system to overhaul science instruction in the lower grades and provide more funding for low-performing schools.
The budget, which was presented at Wednesday night’s School Committee meeting, is $26 million higher than this year’s spending level, a 2.4 percent increase. The overall amount of next year’s school budget should rise even higher by next fall — if the school system and teachers union settle on a new contract that would replace the one that expired last year. The School Committee is expected to vote on the budget in late March.
The proposal comes as Mayor Martin J. Walsh has joined a group of mayors calling on Beacon Hill to provide more money for public education. Less than 4 percent of the Boston school system’s budget next school year is expected to be covered by state aid.
Perille’s proposal offers a glimpse into how the school system spends its money, as lawmakers debate whether a city in midst of a building boom needs more state funding.
How much of the budget goes directly to schools?
About 64 percent of the spending proposal — some $730 million — would go directly into the individual budgets that the city’s 125 schools have direct control over, funding everything from classroom teachers to supplies and materials. Another 25 percent of the spending proposal funds positions and programs that technically fall into the central office budget but that directly provide supports and services that directly benefit students, such as psychologists, special education, busing, food services, custodians, facility maintenance, and the like.
Collectively, those two budget areas would increase by $18 million.
Where does the rest of the money go?
Central office administration, which includes several hundred positions, consumes 5.4 percent of the spending plan, or $61 million. That’s up $2 million from this year.
The remainder of the spending plan — $60 million, or 5.3 percent — would fund services for students not enrolled in the city’s school system. This includes $29 million to bus students to charter, parochial, and private schools, including special education programs outside the city. The amount also includes $31 million for adult education, tuition for private special education programs and vocational programs not available in the school system, and efforts to improve private preschools, which should help students to arrive in kindergarten better prepared.
What kinds of new initiatives would be funded?
The school system plans to spend $364,000 so that high-performing sixth-graders next fall can take the Independent School Entrance Exam at their school during the week instead of going to regional sites on a Saturday. The money covers the exam fees, proctors, and family outreach.
The test is used to determine admission to Boston Latin, Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant.
Other new initiatives include a half-million dollars to bolster family engagement; an additional $750,000 for efforts to turn around low-performing schools, pushing overall funding beyond $2 million; $375,000 to improve science instruction in grades 3 to 8, an area that has often gotten squeezed out for math and reading; and $350,000 toward efforts to help high school students to identify and develop skills in a career of interest.
Will individual schools experience any budget cuts?
Yes. The school system doles out money on a per-pupil basis, meaning schools with declining enrollment will get less while those with rising enrollment will get more. Perille is proposing an additional $2 million to be divvied up by schools with declining enrollment to soften the blow.
About a half dozen schools have begun to mobilize to protest budget cuts.
What about state aid?
While state aid is expected to rise by $1.3 million to $221.3 million, the amount of that going to cover charter tuition will increase too, leaving a little more than $40 million for the school system.
That is $12 million less than this year, an amount the city is making up for in addition to increasing the overall budget by $26 million.
Is the city investing enough?
That’s up for debate. Since Walsh took office, the school budget has grown by $200 million over six budget cycles, including next year’s proposal. That means per-student spending has increased from $16,500 in the 2013-14 school year to an expected $20,700 next school year. Much of the increase is due to pay raises, including extra money for K-8 teachers who started working a 40-minute longer day during that time.
Some parents, teachers, and activists, though, argue the city should spend more on schools, citing critical shortages of nurses, psychologists, guidance counselors, librarians, tutors, supplies and materials, and deteriorating facilities.
CORRECTION: Due to incorrect information supplied to the Globe, an earlier version of this story included an inaccurate dollar amount to help schools grappling with declining enrollment.