BUDGET CRUNCHES IMPACT STATE AND CITY

1 Charlie Baker explains defucit fixFullSizeRender (14) ^( L )  Governor Charlie Baker, with Speaker DeLeo & Senate President Rosenberg, explains budget deficit fixes ( R ) central staff testify about schools retrenchment at Boston School Committee hearing —- —- —- —- We of Massachusetts now know that the finances of both State and City will not support the expansion of services that we have come to expect. First to make that clear was Governor Baker. Speaking alonggside the state’s two top legislative leaders, he announced a plan to eliminate the state’s $ 768 million fiscal year deficit. A link to that the Boston Globe’s report on that plan’s details can be accessed here : http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/02/03/governor-charlie-baker-unveils-cuts-tax-tweaks-bridge-budget-deficit/XMzPTkCbhWTuJYZxOjc7EM/story.html Last night, the City of Boston School District dropped its own tight-funds response. Superintendent McDonough’s Memorandum states that even with the Schools budget increasing by three or four percent, there needs to be retrenchment in order to not run a deficit. Why does a deficit threaten a budget being increased by about $ 30 millilon ? And what retrenchments does McDonough envision ? I will explain below. But first, the State. Baker’s plan does his best to not cut back already existing services. About $ 254 million of its deficit payoff comes from applying “Rainy Day” funds on a one-time basis — a move approved by fiscal watchdog groups. Many other cuts in Baker ‘s plan come from programs authorized but not yet started : meaning that actual current services won’t be cut, only that new services won’t be initiated, at least not during the 2015 fiscal year. Another $ 40 million results from not filling job vacancies. as Baker has already announced a state hiring freeze, that $ 40 million was already in the books. Lastly, the largest item of Baker’s plan is to not provide Medicaid services to people not eligible and to not und Medicaid programs not yet begun — two decisions that look harsh, but as Baker explains, are required by federal law. These decisions will close about $ 180 million of the budget deficit. Crucial to the Baker plan is to have Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg — both Democrats — sign onto it, so that the complainers — and complainers there already are — can’t say it’s a Republican plot. So far DeLeo and Rosenberg have expressed approval, but we shall see if that stance holds : the Globe says that $ 282 million of Baker’s deficit fixes require the legislature’s approval. That means a roll call vote, every Democratic legislator Yea-ing or Nay-ing. My guess is that the Speaker and Senate President will get that done. They have to. The deficit must be closed, and they do not want to be the ones refusing to close it. As to the complaints, they’re to be expected. Any cut, even ones that must by law be done, arouse unhappiness. It’s bad that our state cannot now proceed to expand programs to curb gang violence or add more dug-abuse counsellors, but it’s hard to see how Baker or the legislature would justify funding these programs at the expense of schools or transportation funding. And now to the Boston school district budget : it features what it terms “prioritze(d) investments” : ( a ) “an increase in Weighted Student Funding budgets directed to schools, by more than 4 20 million” ( b ) “$ 5 million to add 40 minutes of instruction time at 20 schools (first cohort of 60 over the next three years), the result of an agreement between the BPs and the Boston Teachers Union” ( c ) “…$ 4 million to support extended learning time at current and former level 4 turnaround schools and other extended learning time schools” ( d ) “$ 1 million…increasing access to 100 more pre-K seats throughout the city” ( e ) “$ 4.8 million to continue for a second year the early hiring of educators to ensure BPS can attract and retain top talent” and ( f ) “…$ 2.1 million to increase and maintain the district’s capacity to offer more inclusive classroom opportunties to sepcial eduaction students.” Ater itemizing these six carrots, McDonough’s memo delivers the stick: “As a district,” says he, ” we face approximately $ 58 million in rising costs ad an additional 4 14 million decline in state and federal revenue. As of this presentation, our budget gap stands between $ 42 million and $ 51 million.” What does McDonough propose by way of deficit closure ? Difficult medicine indeed. Though he does not say so in blunt words, he proposes cutting central administration staff, expanding MBTA transportation for students, and — harshest of all — actual school closures, which, says he, “if left unaddressed, will adversely impact every single student we serve.” He continues ; “there are too many seats or the number of students enrolled in the BPS…. our resources are spread too thin…a limited number of school closures and program consolidations must be part of our strategy.” McDonough then says the obvious : “we acknowledge this is a topic that, rightfully, will raise concerns for families, students, and educators.” That’s the understatement of the year. So what becomes of state governance, after this year of deficit closure, and of the Boston Public Schools as the district downsizes ? I’ll chance a guess : next year’s state budget will re-start the drug-counselling and gang-violence prevention programs put on hold for now. It will streamline the processes of delivering the services that it does fund. Baker has only begun to squeeze inefficiencies and duplications out of state services. He knows that transportation, especially, will need a radical overhaul, of administration, and of equipment and infrastructure, and that these cannot be paid for by robbing local aid monies or short-changing other services. he knows that his re-election depends on getting transportation fixes done, and properly, and on improving the social services that matter a lot to him, personally, as a “health guy.” He also can count that the Democratic leaders of the ;legislature do not want to be the ones to say no to delivering these services better. I have no such confidence that the Boston Public schools will emerge as healthy from the period of retrenchment now beginning. I can’t say, even, how long the retrenchment period will take, or if the public — and Mayor Walsh — will allow it. Walsh has committed va banque to the Boston 2024 Olympics bid and to the building boom : prosperity for his core supporters in the building trades unions and the entrepreneurs who employ them. Boston 2024 is already controversial; its opponents are a minority but a well placed and vocal minority. If Boston’s public schools lose ground — which, to be quite fair, they’re not now doing : just the reverse — the minority could become a majority threatening Walsh’s re-election. He knows it. Walsh will need all the ribgor and confiudence he can muster to hold the Boston school district to the reconfiguration and downsizing it is now entering onto because the funds to do otherwise just aren’t there — and won’t be any time soon. —- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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