By John Lynds
Following a letter to parents last week from Boston Public School Superintendent Tommy Chang reporting that the school department will face a $50 million deficit, a group of concerned parents and students decided to protest Mayor Martin Walsh’s State of the City Tuesday night.
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 during his annual State of the City address, Mayor 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.
In last week’s letter, 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.”
The group is requesting that through strategic planning and ambitious revitalization they want 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.