By John Lynds
Parents and educators are not backing down and held a second rally last week to protest school budget cuts proposed to close a $50 million budget gap at Boston Public Schools.
Families and education stakeholders marched on City Hall and the State House last Wednesday during BPS school vacation week as part of a ‘Walk-In” protest and again listed their demands.
“Families were protesting the $50 million dollar deficit that will result in devastating budget cuts to our schools,” said protester Mary Lewis Pierce. “Strong public schools are the lifeblood of the city and we need the city and state to support the education of all of our children. It was truly amazing to see so many students, parents, teachers and community activist fighting for our kids.”
The group is requesting that through strategic planning and ambitious revitalization they want Mayor Martin Walsh to reduce the BPS budget shortfalls of $50 million this year and $140 million over the last three years.
They are also asking for Walsh to invest in fully-resourced community public schools with wraparound services for Boston’s children.
They want Walsh to work with the true stakeholders of Boston Public Schools, i.e. students, families, educators and community members to fully audit BPS’ budget in order to assess community needs and address inequalities.
Finally the group is asking Walsh to demand a democratically controlled public schools through an elected Boston School Committee.
“Last week’s “Walk-Ins” at City Hall and the State House showed clearly that parents, students and teachers in the city are together in their belief that there is money available to fully fund the Boston Public Schools,” said Kevin Murray and member of QUEST (Quality Education for Every Student). “Our leaders are making a political decision not to make the funds available. The most disappointing aspect of the day was that, while they were both in their offices, neither Mayor Walsh nor Governor Baker had the decency to greet their constituents and acknowledge their concerns. this would have been very easy to do. In the face of these serious budget problems, both Walsh and Baker want the Legislature to divert additional public school funds to charter schools. Something has to give.”
The impetus of the protests, the first being held outside Walsh’s State of the City address last month, began after BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang reported that the school department will face a $50 million deficit.
The group, a broad-based coalition of public education stakeholders made up of families, students, educators, community members and groups representing public schools throughout came together to demand solutions to the shortfalls which the group argues will negatively impact all BPS schools.
“We are concerned that Mayor Walsh did not acknowledge that the City’s appropriation to BPS over the past three years has not covered salary increases and rising costs, forcing budget reductions in the classroom,” said the group’s spokesperson Kristin Johnson. “BPS estimates that maintaining level funding of services requires at least a $55 million annual increase; the Mayor’s increase of $13.5 million forces our schools to cut teachers, librarians, social workers, supplies and more.”
Aside from mentioning that he had increased the BPS by $90 million over three years, Walsh did not provide solutions to the shortfall.
After the State of the City, Walsh told reporters it was his job to make BPS the best school system in the country and that is what he intends to do.
Chang said BPS is facing a nearly $30 million structural deficit due in large part to rising fixed costs, including $21 million in salary and benefit increases.
“When coupled with unforeseen costs and important investments in core operations, past commitments, and strategic priorities, the district’s projected budget gap rises to $40-50 million,” said Chang. “As a result, the entire district is forced to make difficult choices. Adjustments were made to the Weighted Student Funding formula that resulted in schools across the system making a total of $10-$12 million in cuts.”
Chang went on to say that shifts in school enrollment and programming are also impacting individual school budgets.
“Even with these changes to school budgets, and having identified $20 million in cuts to central departments and investments, we are still left with a sizable gap to fill,” said Chang. “We will begin public discussion of these issues in the School Committee meeting on February 3, 2016. A series of public hearings will continue during February and March, culminating with the School Committee’s vote to approve a balanced budget by March 23, 2016.”