Proposed Boston school budget avoids sharp cuts
Boston schools Superintendent Tommy Chang plans to propose a $1 billion budget for the next school year Wednesday that attempts to avoid the kinds of deep spending cuts that riled students, parents, and teachers last year.
Instead, the proposal, which will be officially presented to the School Committee in the evening, emphasizes investments in new programs, including expanding vocational education and starting a Haitian-Creole dual-language program.
The $1,061,000,000 budget proposal represents a $29 million, or 2.8 percent, increase over this year’s spending plan. That is more than twice the size of the increase that Chang originally proposed last February, which was not enough to cover the costs of maintaining some programs and school positions, prompting several protests and student walkouts.
Under next year’s proposal, more than three quarters of the city’s 125 schools would see their individual budgets go up. The remaining schools would experience decreases in spending due to a decline in enrollment, which usually occurs in the middle and upper grades, officials said.
“The proposed budget is the result of a comprehensive effort to direct dollars directly into our classrooms,” Chang said in a statement. “It is imperative that we continue to build upon our successes as a school district by providing strong academic and social-emotional support for our students.”
The overall spending could go up even more. The city is keeping an additional $20 million in reserve to cover the costs of salary increases whenever the School Committee and the teachers union conclude protracted talks on a new contract.
It remains unclear how the budget proposal will be received by parents, students, and teachers. No citywide campaigns have surfaced, in stark contrast to last year when parents, students, and teachers began organizing in January amid district talks of an upcoming budget shortfall that led to a delay in several initiatives, including rolling out an extended day at dozens of schools.
Some parents said they are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
The school department would not say how much spending would go down at schools with declining enrollment, even though principals had to submit their individual budgets to Chang in January.
“Final numbers will not be known for a number of months as enrollment numbers and financial sources become more clear,” the department said in a statement.
Chang is presenting his budget as Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who determines how much the school budget can grow, is running for reelection. Seven high-ranking city and school officials and two media relations specialists briefed the media Monday on the budget to highlight new investments under two different embargoed arrangements, including a $1 million homeless students initiative.
“We are focused on providing a high-quality education for every student in every neighborhood,’’ Walsh said in a statement.
Walsh faces a challenge from City Councilor Tito Jackson, who chairs the council’s education committee and has made inroads in recent years with many parents citywide by speaking against school budget cuts and charter school expansion.
Some families and activists are already upset about the school system’s decision to close the Mattahunt Elementary School in June to avoid receivership. That Mattapan school will be replaced with an early learning center, which will feature the city’s first Haitian-Creole dual-language program, one of the few that would exist nationwide.
The program would teach classes in Haitian-Creole and English, allowing native speakers of each language to become bilingual.
The budget also includes $1.3 million to expand vocational programs at English High School and the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers. The money will be used in part to buy equipment and provide teacher training.
Ligia Noriega-Murphy, English High’s headmaster, said offering different career pathways at her school is “about changing the mindset of students in how they see themselves in the world” and the possibilities that exist for them in the workforce and in college.