^ Mayor Walsh (third from left) with Superintendent Tommy Chang ( fifth from left) and six of the seven school committee members : what now for the billion-dollar schools budget ?
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From where I sit, the defeat of ballot Question Two — to approve charter school expansion or no — by a 63 to 37 margin looks as definitive as can be. A coalition of teachers’ unions, parent allies, and school committees pressured by the unions and parents waged a campaign that the proponents of charter expansion had no good answer for. The anti-charter forces convinced a substantial majority of voters that ( 1 ) charter schools take money away from public school districts — which they do NOT ( 2 ) that the charter school ballot question was an attempt by corporations to privatize education — which it was NOT and ( 3 ) that corporations should not be involved in deciding education policy.
This last argument was false, but the proponents never addressed it directly. Of course corporations have an interest– a vital interest — in education, because it is school graduates who they will be trying to hire, and if those graduates are not ready to tackle even entry level jobs, they either won’t be hired or the corporations that do hire them will have to train them, at corporate expense, when the entire purpose of publicly financed education is that the schools (and school budgets paid by atxpayers0 bare supposed to do that.
That seems pretty basic to me, but the arguments failed, and thus here we are, facing a new FY Boston Schools budget, not t0o mention anew teachers’ union contract, in a political climate where the unions have all the leverage and the City very little. Mayor Walsh decided to support the opposition side on Question Two, thereby neutering his most likely opponent, Tito Jackson, who had made leadership of the”no” side his calling card. Having chosen the “no” side, mayor Walsh is in no good position to now take the side of taxpayers who have every right to object to a Schools budget totaling $ 1.03 billion and climbing and which includes substantial absurdities and waste.
Yet numbers matter, and far more Boston voters are taxpayers than are parents of Boston school kids. I would suppose that taxpayer voters will be looking hard at Walsh’s teachers’ union contract negotiation, once he makes its status public, which he has yet to do. That can’t last. Very soon the School Superintendent’s office will put its FY 2018 budget on the table for discussion, and we will then see what sort of waste it tolerates, what absurdities, and which, if any, reforms. As this year is an election year for Mayor Walsh, surely he wants to limit the school budget’s surprises and avoid controversy. But how to do that ? The waste cannot continue — the Boston Globe has recently editorialized about the most flagrant budget abuses — and the new teachers’ contract will have to be factored in. Considering that more than 86 percent of the FY 2017 schools budget is allocated to staff salaries, there’s no way that the union contract won’t bulge.
Mayor Walsh has no really good option for this new schools budget., If the new union contract approximates what other city worker unions have received, the current budget will probably allocate 88 percent of its funds, or higher, just to salaries. Which means that the budget will have to increase by at least $ 22 million just to avoid hurting other accounts. That’s an increase of 2.2 percent, double the boost that Walsh accorded last year’s schools budget. I doubt he’ll grant more money than that, which means that supplies, transportation, meals, and after school programs will go without.
At some point the absurdities and waste in the Boston schools budget will have to be faced directly. That means school facility consolidation. It means doing away with the 100 or so teachers who have no assignment because no principal will have them. It means no longer passing the buck to State aid via MGL c. 70 — a fraud in itself — to make up the shortfall. Still, this is an election year, and mayor Walsh wants as unruffled an election as possible; and he is in the drivers seat to get a smooth re-election. Which means the real battles will wait until FY 2019, or beyond even that.
One budget item won’t recur even then. Because of last ear’s ballot vote, there won’t be any new charter schools to relieve the pressure of under-performance, or to become the scapegoat for public district failure. The unions now own the school effectiveness issue — and the lack thereof. Let’s see how they do with it.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere