A Different Budget: New Superintendent’s Budget Reflects What She Heard

The world of school budgets within the Boston Public Schools (BPS) has rarely been marked by intrigue or excitement in years past, but new Supt. Brenda Cassellius said this week that her first budget proposal is different than any previous ones because she simply did what parents asked her to do – and that will be grounds for excitement in the schools.

Cassellius presented her first School Budget proposal to the School Committee Wednesday night, Feb. 5, and it was one that was quite different from previous budgets – full of supportive services, basic fixes and laying the groundwork for expansion, all buoyed by a new commitment from Mayor Martin Walsh of $200 million over three years. It also came after her exhaustive tour of every school building, and hosting several community meetings, throughout the City since last August.

“We are going to fix things because we were listening to what the parents told us they want us to do,” said Cassellius in an interview with the Patriot-Bridge. “That’s why I think it’s such a different budget. It’s based on what students say they need and what teachers say they need. When I was on my tour, I’ll never forget a girl I met in (Roxbury). She was asked why she liked her school. She said it’s because they give her what she needs. We are going to give people what they need to succeed.”

One of the first tenets of the new budget is to roll out a complete supportive service program in 33 of the most underachieving schools in the city. In Charlestown, that will include Charlestown High School and the Edwards Middle School (which will start to be phased out). The Transformation program will include social workers, school psychologists, a family liaison and teaching instruction facilitators. That will also include revamping the curriculum in those schools, particularly high school’s, to align with the Mass Core standards.

Cassellius said some schools don’t offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes, while others do. That, she said, should change.

“We need to make sure teachers are up to speed to offer advanced programming, raising expectations throughout the city,” she said.

That investment will also give teachers one extra hour to work with a type of coach to help them advance their teaching. While they do that, students will be able to participate in science, arts, performing arts, physical education and health – among others.

“This program hits every single neighborhood outside of West Roxbury at the schools that are in significant need of support,” she said. “If you start with the schools that need it most in year one, all schools move up and work together as a cohort…All boats rise when you do that because everyone is getting the benefit of that…The momentum begins to build.”

Overall, in that line of thinking, the schools are preparing for a decline in enrollment. Nate Kuder, the BPS CFO, said they will have 1,000 fewer students citywide next year at this time. The goal of the investments in the budget is to stop that bleeding.

“If you don’t interrupt that cycle of declining enrollment, declining parent perception, you will continue to lose students,” Cassellius said. “We have to stop the decline to stabilize and then to improve.”

A major piece of that is in putting $15 million towards the small things, she said, touting the increased investments in janitors, new bathrooms and better facilities at schools in Charlestown and across the City – both in this budget and the upcoming April Capital Budget.

Cassellius and Kuder said they have put on 25 new night janitors in the budget proposal, and will make even more investments in the Capital Budget for bathrooms and improvements in school facilities.

“I saw that need before I actually started,” she said. “I was first approved on May 8 and saw this as a problem when I first came here. I was pretty surprised by that. The way things look around the buildings and particularly the cleanliness…This is a statement that says the learning environment matters. The way kids feel when they enter a classroom matters. You’re going to see a change.”

At the elementary level in Charlestown, the biggest pieces in the budget regard the expansion of the Harvard Kent School from a K-5 to a K-6. That expansion includes budget supports for the Edwards Middle, which will not enroll a sixth grade this coming year and will begin to phase out as large investment in East Boston schools begin to hit the ground.

“As part of the expansion to sixth grade, that work will be supported by $1 million for Building BPS support transitions,” said Kuder.

The Edwards Middle conversation will likely begin this year as well, with Supt. Cassellius saying it will likely be part of the high school re-design conversations – with most high schools going to a 7-12 model. The Edwards Middle’s future role in Charlestown will be determined in those conversations, but it is certainly going to be used to ease the pressure on the elementary schools caused the growth in young students.

There will be three hearings on the new Budget proposal throughout this month, including Feb. 13 at the Curley School in JP, March 10 at the MLK K-8 in Dorchester, and March 18 at the Bolling Building in Dudley Square. The final budget is expected to be voted on by the School Committee on March 25.

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