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Boston Public Schools District statistics

144 schools

6 Early Learning Centers (K-1)

61 Elementary Schools (K-5)

17 Elementary & Middle Schools (K-8)

Middle Schools (6-8).

1 Middle & High School (6-12)

30 High Schools (9-12)

3 "Exam" Schools (7-12)

6 Special Education Schools (K-12)

3 alternative (at-risk) programs

2 high schools are Horace Mann charter schools approved and funded by the BPS; and 1 high school is a Commonwealth pilot school

Projected SY08 enrollment is 56,190 (a decrease of 580 from SY07)

Winner, Broad Prize for Urban Education, 2006

Source: "BPS At a Glance 2007-08"; "BPS Wins Broad Prize for Urban Education," Sept. 19, 2006

Higher costs, lower aid make deep cuts in budget

Boston Public Schools has to meet NCLB mandates, but at what cost?

BY JAMES ZIPADELLI

BOSTON – If Boston Public Schools’ chief financial officer John McDonough was a weatherman, his forecast included ominous black clouds, hail and gale-force winds for the next few years. But Mayor Thomas Menino’s one-time commitment of $10 million next year is allowing for a few breaks of sun.

In order to balance the budget this year, McDonough said 81 positions would have to be cut, mostly in central office positions and outside of the classroom. While Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman is glad that teachers are not being affected yet McDonough isn’t finished balancing the budget. He is still $2 million short.

“We’re looking through all the positions again, but we’re running out of positions to cut,” McDonough said.

McDonough is the first to acknowledge this year has been an uphill climb, because originally, the shortfall was almost $30 million. In March, the shortfall was $16 million. He’s close but not there yet.

 

There are several contributing factors to the shortfall. In her opening comments, Superintendent Carol Johnson said the school-age population fell 10 percent, even though 30,000 more residents moved here last year.

Second, Johnson said, the number of students where English is a Second Language has increased. Finally, the number of students with disabilities and the number of autistic children has risen sharply as well, and the district spent more teaching both.

“There’s been a 400 percent increase in autistic children, from 47 students in 1996 to almost 400 today,” Johnson said. Actually, the percentage is much higher than that: 750 percent.

What doesn’t help, McDonough said, is “significant reductions” in federal funding have made it difficult for the district to provide the same level of service to students.

 

McDonough said federal funding has been cut nearly $8 million in the past two years, and a slight increase in local aid was deceiving because the district had to pick up the tab for several projects that would have been paid for with federal funds.

At one time, the district had 31 outreach coordinators paid for with these funds, McDonough said. This year, the district had to fund 17 of them, at a cost of nearly $1 million. At one time, federal funds paid for paraprofessionals, but this year, the district picked up the tab on 20 of them at a cost of $1 million.

“The deficit was driven by underestimating salary requirements and overestimating aid from funds we’ve enjoyed over past years,” McDonough said. “If we maintain current levels, we will absorb an additional $6.3 million.”

Private funds are hard to come by, too. The purchase of science materials was funded by a National Science Foundation grant, but it expired, so the district picked up the tab. It also picked up paying for programs like the Boston Residency program and alternative school because the district thought those were worthy endeavors, Johnson said.

This presented a new financial wrinkle: to pay for those worthy endeavors, the school system dipped into its reserve fund, virtually wiping it out. McDonough said the depleted reserves means the school system will be hard-pressed to respond to unplanned issues or problems.  There were other belt-tightening measures. For example, the district will scale back replacing their bus fleet. Staff support will be cut. But food service still needs money; their subsidy is not being fully covered.

Although the school committee has scoped out a budget, McDonough noted “our work does not end, our work just begins,” on keeping a rein in on spending. He urged the committee to have “thoughtful strategies and long-term responses so that it doesn’t require the same conversation next year.”

McDonough could not say how much it would cost to meet the needs of No Child Left Behind. 

“Meeting NCLB mandates depends on the quality of instruction the district has, and additional resources to support programs and interventions that would allow us to meet proficiency levels by 2014,” McDonough said.

Johnson agreed.

“It’s not a one-year challenge; it’s a multi-year challenge,” Johnson said. “We will come back between now and September. We don’t expect to be in the same position next year, but we need to make tough decisions.”