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School officials say money added back into high schools coming from anticipated increases in state aid, not from elementary-school programs

BPS officials said tonight roughly $6 million being pumped into high schools to stave off teacher layoffs comes from an anticipated increase in state aid for the effects of losing students to charter schools.

Although school officials acknowledged tonight they now plan to hold off on expanding Advanced Work Classes in grades 4-6, School Superintendent Tommy Chang told the School Committee he's still planning for expanding the program, just that he wants to hold off any spending until after the start of the city and state fiscal year in July, when BPS hopes to actually get the money it's now anticipating for a total school budget of slightly more than $1 billion.

Chang said he wants to sort of front-load high-school budgets now because early hiring of new teachers tends to result in better teachers getting hired.

After last week's student protests, Mayor Walsh announced he would restore most of the cuts initially proposed for high-school programs.

Eleanor Laurans, BPS executive director of school finance, said it was unfortunate that "misunderstanding or misinformation" about the complex school budget made it seem as if BPS was robbing elementary-level Peter to pay high-school Paul.

School Committee Chairman Michael O'Neill appreciated the good news, but cautioned that potential increases in state aid might still be tied to legislation that might harm BPS funding, such as lifting the cap on charter schools.

In a revised proposed budget presented to the School Committee tonight, officials said proposed roughly spending $3 million more next year to add roughly 200 new K1 seats and an extra $4.2 million in spending on five "early education" schools.

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Comments

The budget is going up by about 1.5%. Add this money and it's about a round 2%. So if the schools get $6 million at $15k per kid loss to charters, that makes about 400 fewer kids or almost 1% fewer students next year assuming all else equal. So we have 2% more money with 1% less work, but we need to level fund a smaller system with almost 4% more money in a 2% inflation environment to make ends meet?

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Racists at BLS!

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I'm not sure 1% fewer students equals 1% less work, nor that 1% fewer students and/or less work should mean 1% less spending. I'm not saying that the school system can continue to lose students without figuring out some way to reduce empty seats in the system - and that's definitely a problem that has been kicked down the road for far too long - but I'm not sure that it's reasonable to expect proportional savings in the system immediately upon seeing an enrollment reduction. There are a lot of fixed costs at play here, and even if you do come up with a plan to reduce empty seats it's likely to be contentious and costly.

As for the actual increases, well, health insurance itself is going up $7M. As you know, no other city department has health insurance costs included in its budget, so already we have a full half of the appropriation increase spent on a cost that no other department has to directly deal with. Assuming that the 7.5% increase in health insurance costs is similar to the increase that is being seen across the city, that's an increase that's happening well above the inflation level that we're seeing across the city, not a problem that is specific to BPS.

Meanwhile, custodians' salaries are going up 28.7%, a $4.7M increase to maintain the same staffing level. I have no idea how that contract was negotiated, how many years of retroactive raises it includes, or whether the new contract is fair. In any case, it's another huge increase hitting us entirely in this year.

So now BPS has spent $11.7M of its $13.5M appropriation increase (87%) on two budget line items that make up less than 12% of the budget, and the larger of those two items probably shouldn't be included in the department budget at all. The remaining $900M of the budget is seeing a $1.8M, or 0.2%, increase, which is supposed to fund mandatory salary increases (which can hardly be considered a suprise given that they were negotiated years ago). On top of that, the new superintendent is trying to push through several million dollars of 100 day plan initiatives.

You can assign blame wherever you want - I'm certainly not saying that BPS is spending every dollar it receives wisely - but it's clear to me that whoever came up with this year's appropriation increase must have been aware that it would fall far short of funding the contracts that the city negotiated, never mind being enough to pay for new initiatives. Even with a $13.5M increase, this is the city trying to starve the beast.

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As noted below, I have trouble with the concept that BPS seems to be equally viewed as a jobs program as a means to educate our kids. Maybe I'm totally wrong on this, but I'd bet we're paying above average salaries for bus drivers, janitors, etc... By all means, let's pay good teachers well in parallel to giving principals the ability to get rid of bad ones- which is happening. There's something odd where it seems that a big portion of the budget, labor costs, isn't even part of the discussion. Sure there's talk of making the administration more efficient and reducing payroll there to shift payroll to the schools, but did that happen?

I'd like to think there's middle ground between the Scott Walker approach and this one.

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I think labor costs receive plenty of discussion and media coverage, it's just that it mostly happens during and immediately after contract negotiations. When you're in the middle of a contract and discussing year over year changes to the budget it's not really all that worthwhile a talking point, though, because adjustments to those costs aren't really on the table in the short term. There is certainly the potential for using the budget as a way of influencing future contract negotiations, though, which we might be seeing this year.

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Re: money being well-spent, I really question the some of the Superintendent's new initiatives, such as creating a new Social Emotional Learning and Wellness department, and hiring a new Assistant Superintendant to head it. BPS already has a Behavioral Health Services department that has been trying for years to provide additional social/ emotional supports to kids while being severely understaffed and continually cut. Why not just fix the department that already exists and is trying to do this work, rather than creating a new department and administrator that I'm sure is costing the City a pretty penny.

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Thankyou again for this.

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I think your starving beast looks more like Pablo Sandoval reporting to Spring Training!

You need to stop looking at year over year comparisons and see what's been going on for over a decade. How does a system that's 15% smaller than it was at the turn of the century get budget increases at almost twice the rate of inflation and still cry poverty? In my world of compound interest that's virtually a mathematical impossibility unless you are working off of a hopelessly low base. Hell - in 2006 even Richard Stutman called the budget "sufficient" - and now after hundreds of millions more in a close to zero inflation environment with thousands fewer kids there is no way anyone can say it went from "sufficient" to desperate.

As you say - is it being well spent - certainly not. This incrementalism is crap. Somebody needs to rein in this fat beast before it devours the entire city. Education is an important public role. Probably the most important. But it's not the only role. You need to leave some food on the plate for a lot of other things.

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As you know, I'm well aware of what the budget trends look like over several years. And as I assume you know, not all of BPS's cost increases have all that much to do with the inflation rate in any given year - they're often due to intentional policy choices, demographic changes, contract negotiations that cover spans of several years, and lots of other factors, almost certainly including plenty of things that I wish we weren't spending our money on.

Go back to your first comment. That comment's not about long term trends, it's about this year's budget, period. I responded with some further information about this year's budget. If you want to expand things to look at long term trends, that's a different conversation. My main point is that this is a budget in which the allocation increase is - probably intentionally - well short of what the school department would consider level funding. In FY15, the mayor increased the budget 3.9%. In FY16, 3.9% again. In FY17, the original proposal was 1.3%. Maybe that doesn't go far enough for you, but for a single year it's plenty painful, especially given the specific factors that I listed in my previous comment. I get that you think that over a longer span things still look like they're out of hand to you, but I don't think there should be an expectation that a decades long trend can be completely reversed in a single year, so I'll keep my characterization of this being a starving beast, thanks very much. And, sadly, I expect that we'll see several more in the next few years. I hope the school department can see that coming and figure out how to make it work.

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I know you know Chris.

Here are a couple of things I think will happen:

1) 3-5 schools a year closing for the next 10 years
2) Somehow, some way, the busing situation needs to change - won't save the whole transport budget like some argue - but still will save tens of millions
3) Greater efficiency in the system - less overhead at Bolling and higher paid employees are going to need to kick in more for health insurance
4) Pensions are going away - not just in the schools - but we will see 457 plans or some equivalent for younger employees

Those steps should level fund the schools for a decade or more without costing the taxpayers an extra dime - we can put the savings/incremental revenue into things like parks, public works and technology that were truly starved under Menino.

Now we need a politician with the backbone to pull this off.

Marty - are you (or one of you minions) listening? How's your back?

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See for point 1 we need the BPS to release the facilities audit which might actually reveal which schools are under capacity, etc... However it seems to be the white whale of BPS watchers - rumored to exist but never confirmed.

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We do have this set of slides. The chart on slide 9 almost defies belief, and I think one of the real concerns that a lot of people have is the methodology that is used to determine school capacities.

I'm sure this statement about student-teacher ratios raised some eyebrows:

If BPS were to meet peer average, they would carry ~1,300 fewer teachers, allowing for potential reinvestment of ~$90-110M

This quotation is interesting, too:

“I don’t even know what the district’s or superintendent’s goals are […] it’s too unclear. Our only mission … is to avoid lawsuits.” – Cabinet Department leader

There's a lot more in there, and a lot of the suggestions will be controversial. It would be nice if the entire audit was released.

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If your plan is enacted, backbone is just one of the things our politicians will need. Closing 3-5 schools a year for 10 years will require a detailed plan with a lot of sensitivity given to the effect on the students. A lot of students who are displaced by school closings will likely end up in schools that are slated to be closed in subsequent years - after all, that's where the excess capacity is likely to be. Going through even one school closing is a big disruption; being caught in a sort of school closing domino effect sounds completely destabilizing. Those empty seats are budget killers, so something will need to be done, but I don't envy the person who has to actually figure out what that something is and then navigate its implementation.

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But I think one thing we agree on is we can't kick this can down the road much more.

It would be nice if they could do it once and done, but I don't think you can turn the ship that fast. Might be able to stage it say from HS and work backwards so kids may only have to change once in a career. But probably not that easy.

With the way fixed costs are rising i don't think BPS can remain 35% of the budget. That means rationalization on multiple fronts is likely the only solution.

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Don't compare the displacement of schools closing with an imaginary situation where kids in Boston get to go to their beloved neighborhood schools for many years.

Kids are already displaced in Boston, first by the lottery, then by AWC, then by middle schools, then by exam schools. It's common for a kid to be at his third or even fourth school by seventh grade, none of which are in his neighborhood. Would it really make that big a difference if one of those moves was because a school ceased operations. Closing 3-5 schools a year could actually make it more likely a kid could go to school with the kids next door.

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Don't compare the displacement of schools closing with an imaginary situation where kids in Boston get to go to their beloved neighborhood schools for many years.

Did I make that comparison?

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Deleted

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Silly you! Obviously not using Common Core math.

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There may not be causality between the "restoration" of many high school cuts and the impact of this budget on elementary schools, but the remaining cuts throughout the system are still devastating to the lives of the city's most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens - its children.

There are no easy choices left. Almost every cut has a negative impact on the ability of the District to fulfill it's mandate, and that has a very real impact on the children and families who call this city home. More than 80 testified before the School Committee and a packed auditorium for hours and hours last night - from first graders to grandparents - and they didn't do so because of "misinformation".

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Testifying that the BTU will fully expect a raise similar to what the BPD detectives union got soon while they continue to work with BPS to solve the budget challenges?

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Last contract was 3% salary increase a year. That doesn't seem aggressive. The Mayor's pot of money was a 1.5% increase. Not sustainable. This whole $1 billion obsession is a way of distracting people from the issue of properly funding and educating our children. Cities like DC (which underperform Boston) are actually putting more money into their budget to improve education/facilities...has fewer students and about a $1.2 billion budget for FY17. Mayor Walsh's "efficiencies" may be found outside the classroom. Why did the CITY choose to spend $125 million 2 years ago to build the Bolling Building for central administration? Ever been there? It's nicer than any BPS school I've ever been in- has working wifi, water fountains/bathrooms, copiers with enough paper, clean working spaces, state of the art tech. Does BPS really need over 2,000 people working in central administration in the Bolling? What about the consequences of mayoral pressure to give principals more latitude in hiring at low performing schools? Great idea, poorly executed- there are about 120 teachers who are not in classrooms because of this. Most have proficient teacher ratings. Those who do should be in classrooms saving the district $1 million. Why did BPS put $12 million in a reserve fund? (Previously only $9 million in the fund). For those who say you have enough money, deal with it. I'd ask you to consider for a moment what is really going on here. The Mayor holds the purse strings. And Rahn Dorsey (education spokesman for Mayor) has rarely been seen or heard from. What a disappointment he's been! As Marty turns his back on students and families (check out his news reported condescending comments to students who protested, and saying parents/community never had the decency to call him to ask for the right information) he is turning to the BRA (build more, "give away" parcels of land at discount prices), GE ($25 million tax breaks), PILOT (nonprofits not fulfilling their commitment to give back), Northern Ave Bridge ($100 million to restore it, though not a priority need). But boy, thank goodness he got the 30 under 30 Forbes event to come here. I was really worried we didn't have enough young talent in this city. Priorities, Marty.

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Something like 90 people spoke against cuts and against pitting lower grades against upper grades before the School Committee officially opened their regular meeting. One of them was a high-school students who noted how nice the Bolling Building is and wondered why all that money was spent on an administration building when BPS already had a perfectly good (was it?) administration building downtown.

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I worked at Court Street a few years ago. It was falling apart.

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Court Street wasn't the most beautiful building. But did the city need to build a whole new building? And did it need to spend $125 million? Could we have had a nice, functioning. Holding for $90 million? Probably. It seems shameful that students will never have a building even close to Bolling. The riches are actually very embarrassing.

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It looked like the places they put the children?

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Last contract was 3% salary increase a year.

What if they are not performing well or just average?

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How do you determine who is average? Or not performing well? Wouldn't the city then put pressure on every principle to put most of their teachers in the average or not performing well category? Your idea sounds nice, but it's not that simple.

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That teachers would give up their raise this year if BPS parents and students asked them to. However, it would set a precedent where the city would now be able to turn to teachers to bail out the school system in the future. Basically the city would be off the hook for ever coming up with a "real" budget again. Also, I don't think a majority of BPS parents and students would actually want their teachers to give up their raise or would agree to ask them to. I think you will find that most BPS parents and students think Boston teachers are paid very well and that they deserve it.

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My original post was perhaps a bit flip on this point.

I don't advocate any reversal of the existing contracts, including the janitorial staff. I do honestly wonder though if the city has any ability to try to limit the scope of further increases to tie more closely to the standard COLA type increases seen in the private sector. I suspect this would quickly be defeated through arbitration awards though, so I don't know that there's a real solution out there.

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