^ conned and used : students walkout to protest a very strange Schools Budget decision

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Political hay has been made recently by some who see the Boston Schools Budget as a lift off for their space ship of ambition. News cameras have brought student walkouts to our attention; social media has gone batty with back and forth accusation an d glorifying. You may, like me, decry the use of students to heat an agenda to the boiling point; or you may like boiled agendas. Whichever your taste, you may find it instructive to take a hard look at Boston’s Schools Budget and to ask hard questions of its accountants.

I will try to do just that. Myself, I find Boston’s Schools Budget bloated with redundancy, lame with misappropriation, lazy and in some cases absurd. Before you read further, however, I urge you to examine the FY 2017 Budget yourself right here : https://drive.google.com/a/bostonpublicschools.org/file/d/0BzsLEoKGiYp2T3huMmxONFJZVkt6dTZQZFhjNHVxUS1Fd0ww/view?pref=2&pli=1

Several line items puzzle me.

1.Why is there $ 11,706,729 in per diem payments to substitute teachers, when included in the $ 409,514,539 being paid to “teachers” is about $ 13 million paid to about 100 teachers who have no teaching assignment, because no principal will have them ? (Note : the approximately $ 13 million paid to said 100 non-assigned teachers is not itemized in the FY 2017 Budget accounts. If you did not know about them, you would not see the $ 13 million at all. Note, too, that the $ 140,298,023 accounted as “employee benefits” includes some amount — probably about $ 3 million — paid as such to the 100 non-assigned teachers.)

2.Why does the utilities account allocate about $ 20,258,000, up about $ 1,142,000 even though fuel costs have come way down ?

3.Why does the Budget include $ 1,222,095 for “renting space,” when the Department maintains significantly under-used buildings of its own, given that its buildings anticipate about 93,000 students, while current enrollment is 57,000, or 54,000, depending on whose statistics you read ?

4.Why does the Budget allocate $ 14,686,707 for “repair and maintenance,” of such under-capacitized space ? Consolidating buildings and selling off the rest would save much money in this account as well as accord the City a Capital Budget windfall to help pay for the new schools construction now under way.

5.Why must the Budget allocate $ 94,949,554 for Transporting 53,000 to 57,000 students — assuming that it does, in fact, transport all of the students so enrolled ? Granted that this figure amounts to about one dollar per school day per student, a bargain amount. Still, all of it is being paid by the taxpayer. Should not parents be asked to share the cost ? Of course taxpayers should be obligated to pay for the education of society’s children, for all sorts of reasons moral and economic; but transportation is not education. It wouldn’t even be necessary were it not for our City’s sad history of intentional racial segregation. of its schools 40 years ago and more; today, however, some 87 percent of students covered by the BPS budget are of color. Isn’t it time to restore the neighborhood school 9and the great Parent Teacher associations — PTA’s — that invigorated them long ago ? And to put an end to misapplication of most of that $ 94 million, that could be used for classrooms, as the protesting students want and deserve ?

Overall, I see the Boston Schools Budget misapplying as much as $ 150 million of its $ 1.03 billion allocation. Half that amount could make a lot of Boston Schools classrooms great places in which to learn what charter school students learn via budgets much, much smaller. One wonders at the strangeness of the decision, by the City’s Budget Office, to leave classrooms about $ 50 million short of what they say they need instead of cutting at least $ 50 million from Budget items unjustifiable by any rational standard.

As it proceeds with its capital plan to consolidate 126 very old school buildings into 90 new ones, and to establish uniform enrollment on a hotch potch school choice system — both of which moves I fully support — the City would be well advised to restore classroom funds to high priority and eliminate — or at least pare back — the duplicative or unneeded Budget allocations that have no justification at all beyond vested interest stubbornness.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere