^ new BPS superintendent Brenda Cassellius may actually get stuff done. Mayor Walsh is counting on it.

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On February 5 the Boston School Department presented its FY 2021 budget proposal. It increases last year’s $ 1.1.7 billion by $ 80 million, to $ 1.258 billion– a raise of about seven percent. That’s the largest percentage increase during the six years that I have tracked the BPS budget, during which time the school population has not grown at all.

Why is more money needed ? Why a seven percent increase, double last year’s increase ? What will $ 1.258 billion do, that last year’s $ 1.17 billion not do, to make the City’s schools enough better that parents will have enough confidence in them to not leave the City in search of school systems that they feel good about ? A very good question.

You can look at the budget proposal’s details here, in Excel format :  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1AP2Msx1JKRHm5TQQf0ZlA1MeBN7SKGBF/view

The new budget does in fact represent significant shift in priorities. Salaries used to take up 85 percent of the Budget. Next year they consume only 66 percent : $ 836,224,362 (an eight percent increase) out of $ 1,258,633,065. “Instructional Supplies” — actual classroom tools — this year budgeted $ 6,080,924; next year it’ll be $ 79,552,656 — a  33 percent bump. “Equipment” cost BPS $ 8,743,883.40 this year; next year $ 12,200,376 will be allotted. “Support” — mainly bilingual teachers, Special Education instructors, and kindergarten teachers — take up $ 66,555,794 this year. Next year, $ 77,501,985 — a 21 percent increase. Aides — bilingual, special education, sign language, security, and more — received $ 73,666,8456 this year; $ 789,522,490 next year.

Given these increases for people and tools that actually support education as a serious matter, its probably less troubling, though hardly okay, that the budget includes $ 107,025,226 for “transportation,” including the cost of student MBTA passes.

More troubling is the 39 percent increase in the “part time” account : clerical, coach, “transportation attendant,” custodial, professional overtime and stipend. From $ 24,028,017 it rises to $ 32,234,639. It’s distressing to see the school system increase its reliance on workers who don’t receive benefits and whose jobs can be eliminated easily.

That said, clearly Mayor Walsh sees that, with re-election coming next year, he absolutely has to have better achievement results in place that parents know they’ve got to live with now and which will be detailed in a State report which Walsh admits “won;t be pretty,” Will that expectation come to pass ? perhaps. I’m not encouraged, however,m by seeing diminishment of the Boston Latin School exam’s rigor as the chief structural reform. We should be making that exam tougher, not easier. The system does need structural reform, however. If only important influencers would start insisting upon : consolidation of under-utilized school buildings; complete overhaul of school buildings’ heating and ventilation systems; home visits by teachers and the re-establishment of parent-teacher associations; elimination of Court-ordered busing, as every neighborhood is now integrated; expanded charter school or innovative curriculum options; advanced, college level classes for high achievers; trade education, everywhere, for the building trades; dress codes, so that students do not use fashion as a device for forming cliques and creating hierarchies of popularity. It would also help that BPS hire an inspector general to oversee its accounting practices.

The above list is probably not complete.

I hear and see not much talk about any of the above. If anything, the talk walks in the opposite direction. That won’t work. Parents know when they’re being conned or appeased. When they feel that that is happening, they up and leave the City. I do hope that the Mayor’s attempt to eliminate the most glaring inadequacies convinces parents that he means business; that the “not pretty” report which is coming — but which is likely nonetheless to be nicer than it really should be — will change the direction in which Boston schools have been moving since the City made the grave mistake of not insisting that John McDonough remain as “interim” superintendent.

The final budget vote takes place on March 28th at the Bolling Building in Nubia n Square.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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