^ Boston Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang : has a budget memorandum for you. Read it and judge the situation accordingly
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Before I delve into the details of the Mayor’s proposed — now final — $ 1.109 billion dollar schools budget for the coming year, it might be helpful to read Superintendent Chang’s memorandum of justification:
The budget itself merits serious study, as always; but there is enough information in Superintendent Chang’s memorandum to conclude much about Boston’s schools (“BPS”) agenda. Let’s itemize and briefly question some of its assertions:
( 1 ) the increased funding, $ 48 million, represents the smallest percentage increase, by far, of any year’s budget since Mayor Walsh became Mayor. The usual increase has amounted to almost double that. Last year, with a smaller budget, the increase was $ 50 million.
( 2 ) Superintendent Chang’s memo chides the Governor for a state budget providing less state aid, pursuant to MGL c,. 70, than in the prior year. But why, I might ask, should the State increase its aid to Boston given the enormous rise in real estate tax assessments occasioned by skyrocketing real estate values in most of the City ? Indeed : given what is happening in Boston, I am puzzled why the Mayor did not allocate an increase much larger than last year’s $ 50 mil;lion, rather than less.
( 3 ) The Superintendent goes out of his way to applaud that BPS teachers are among the highest-salaried in the state and nation. Doubtless he says this in order to head off teacher salary demands at the next Teachers’ Union contract negotiation: yet hasn’t it been a long-standing sore point that almost 86 percent of the Boston schools budget goes to staff salaries, leaving everything else, from classroom supplies to utilities to transportation and travel or research, to fight over a mere 14 percent ?
( 4 ) The Superintendent also praises BPS for its high level of school success, noting how many schools in the District now perform at Levels One and Two, per State Board of Education standards. I cannot tell if he has it right, but assuming that he does have it right, why is more State aid needed, given the Equal Protection limitations placed on c. 70 compensatory funding ?
( 5 ) Mr. Chang’s memorandum also notes “under-utilized schools” as a recipient of state funds. The under-utilization of some school buildings is nothing new. It’s been a discussion point for at least all of Mayor Walsh’s years in office. Why hasn’t the District consolidated the many under-utilized school buildings, closing some entirely and thus saving about $ 50 million in maintenance costs and utilities expenditure ?
( 6 ) The memorandum also notes that 57 BPS schools now practice an extra 40 minute school day and that the extra time costs the District some $ 17 million. Why hasn’t the Superintendent expanded the 40 extra minute reform to every school in the District while utilizing the cost savings from consolidation to pay for it ? Indeed, why is Boston’s school day still one of the shortest in the state ? Most school Districts use a school day more than an hour longer than Boston’s 57 extended day schools.
I have no doubt that all of the above questions will continue to be fruitlessly asked, and that the City’s future budget allocations will continue to lag well behind the increases in tax assessments, and that very little will be done. BPS will continue to fund anomalies and live with them because the will to reform them isn’t there, nor the political alignment. That said, to the extent that Boston schools achieve Level One or Level two performance, I applaud the teachers who under Union President Jessica Tang’s leadership, understand what is expected of them, and I congratulate the students for working so diligently that kudos given them are well founded.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere