BOSTON SCHOOLS 2018 BUDGET : TENURE, PRINCIPALS, AND UNDER-ENROLLMENT

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^ looks good, but many classrooms in Boston’s Public Schools are nowhere near this full. Deficits are the result.

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Yesterday I wrote up a first look at the Boston Schools Budget for fiscal year 2018, as presented to the public last week. In that column I discussed chiefly its money allocations. Today I want to talk about the Budget’s most controversial structural priorities and operational outlook : tenure obstacles and classroom under-utilization.

But first of all, as I did yesterday, I post a link to the Budget PDF itself and ask that you read it before continuing on to9 my discussion:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9T_BaHxqRh8OU5rUy1zNGo0Mnc/view

As you see, the “Proposed” Budget includes a “big idea,” number 6 in the 10 idea list, entitled “advocate for changes in tenure law for teachers in Suitable Professional capacity roles.” Though this “big idea” is not discussed in a segment of its own, careful reading of the entire Budget allows that the issue be two : 9 1 ) allowing Principals to hire and choose their own staff regardless of a staff person’s tenure status and ( 2 ) allowing the District to layoff, or buy out the contracts of, teachers who have no assignment because no principal will have them or who teach classes so under-enrolled that maintaining them is a deficit situation.

This is obviously an idea as controversial as big. The Boston Teachers Union (“BTU”) has so far stubbornly opposed classroom consolidation that would eliminate under-enrollment situations. Avoiding tenure rules is, of course, a violation of the current Teacher Union contract. Yet the District’s school principals want — so says the Budget discussion — autonomy to hire and fire, and they want to “move fast” — so the discussion says — as do many school parents.

Moving fast is not something that billion-dollar bureaucracies do well. Boston’s tenure situation and classroom under-utilization have been argued over for many years. The two go together. As enrollment has declined, over the past 40 years,m from 91,000 to today’s 56,045, over-staffing has stymied the District’s budget more and more; and very little has changed. Last year Mayor Walsh announced a “capital building” program designed to replace the system’s 126 very old school buildings with 90 new ones : and no sooner had he made the announcement than the BTU and its advocate allies decried the Mayor’s plan as “school closings.” Walsh was accused of turning the school system over to charter operators, privateers, corporate interests. Opposition moved Walsh to postpone his building program : after all, he had a new BTU contract to negotiate, and the money issues in it were — st,ill are — big enough without adding to them. This is also an election year for the Mayor, and his chief opponent made clear during last year’s charter school expansion battle that he would be a BTU voice on all fronts. Thus nothing happened by way of structural reform.

Next year, however, the election will be past, and the District’s including tenure reform and under-utilization issues in its Budget tells me that Walsh expects to win re-election and that he is unready to wait longer to begin reform of Boston Schools’ big operational issues. This is good news : because the section of the Budget analysis discussing under-utilization shows that, at 50 percent full, a typical classroom operates at a $ 44,695 deficit, whereas an 87 percent classroom turns a $ 3,275 surplus, and a completely full classroom gains the District $ 24,595. costs the District  That’s a $ 79,290 turnaround, per classroom; expand this dollar disparity across 126 schools, each with multiple classrooms, and you’re talking millions of dollars lost through inefficient use of school buildings.

Walsh is right. taxpayers cannot wait any longer to see their taxes not thus wasted, nor should they have to.

Recouping for the Boston School District the millions of dollars that Walsh’s building program will gain depends as well on tenure reform. If Boston classro0oms decrease in number by one quarter, much staff will have to be laid off or atritted. Can Walsh and his Schools Superintendent, Tommy Chang, win union approval for such a major upheaval ? We may soon see once the current teacher contract negotiation is made public. The State managed to win union approval for major MBTA cost savings, but the new Carmen’s Union contract, while agreeing to outsourcing several T operations, saved all the union members’ jobs. I don’t see how a new BTU contract that reforms classroom under-utilization can do that.

Yet it must. The Mayor is signalling that he won’t wait any longer to reform the school plant completely. Impatiently I await the resolution that the new BTU contract — and the FY 2019 Schools Budget — will bring.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the coming era of employer participation in curriculum, pedagogy, and education procedure, a reform crucial because it is employers, after all, who have to hire thousands of skills-ready new people ever year and cannot stay in, or locate to, Boston if our city’s schools can’t give them a full plate of skills-ready graduates.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere