BPS budget cuts protest

~75 local parents, teachers, communities members and many of their children showed up at the steps of the State House this afternoon to protest the proposed 2014/2015 BPS budget cuts and to ask the state to consider holding the lifting the charter cap until the state finds away to make sure both school systems are fully funded.

Several parent and student organizers spoke to a lively crowd, with some excellent chants led by public and charter high school students.

Shortly after the protest, word was released (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2014/03/25/mass-charter-s...) that the legislature was not able to come to an agreement on the proposed "compromise bill" that included targeted lifting of the charter cap and charter tuition reimbursement for public schools.

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Waiting for Stevil......

There was a pretty lively discussion just a few days ago here about whether there really are budget cuts. I don't live in Boston, but find this interesting.

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You may have missed my final post

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Finally tracked down a recent copy of the school department's budget - here's a summary of the "cuts"

According to BPS documents:

The schools will get a 4% increase in funding

Staffing will drop by about 160 people - a touch more than one per school - though all these are probably not in schools. This is off an all time high (at least in the last 15 years) of 8750 which is some 300 staff higher than in the final approved budget for 2014 - apparently they found funds for more staff after last year's budget was approved.

A quarter of the cuts are kindergarten teachers because the influx of kindergarten kids never materialized. Another 100 or so are classroom assistants - probably also due to overcapacity. The other half are scattered through the budget.

The school system is still shrinking - last year by about 1-2%. I believe due to new charters opening in the fall we will see a further reduction in enrollment of 1-2%.

So we have the one of the most lavishly funded school systems literally in the world getting a budget increase almost twice the rate of inflation enjoying record staffing save for last year for a school system that has its lowest enrollment in many, many decades.

Amazing the sense of anxiety you can cause from the bully pulpit of city hall with false agenda-driven information.

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You still don't get it

4% is not keeping up with cost increases. Go talk to some principals and site councils about the actual individual school budgets. They are being cut, in many cases by drastic amounts.

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Cuts are happening at the school level

Hey Stevil,

I read the other thread, for the record. But the “sense of anxiety” is because the budgets of the individual schools are being cut. The Curley is losing 14 staff. The Philbrick, a Tier 1 school, will not have a supply budget. My son’s school is the BTU. They are losing their social worker, 2 paraprofessionals and Playworks (our physical ed program). That is why we are panicking. You can keep arguing that the budget is increasing. But when schools lose resources that doesn’t matter so much. Because of what is ACTUALLY being cut in our schools. All of these schools have long wait lists so it can’t be attributed to under subscription.

I don’t know why the city approved an increase to staff salaries without thinking about revenue. That’s on them. And I keep hearing that there will be some “magic” trick, and these cuts won’t actually happen. If that is true, I wish the city would get on with it, and pull the damn rabbit out.

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One damn magic rabbit coming up

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Here's a link to the BPS budget site

http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/budget

Scroll down and click on the bullet point titled: FY15 budget proposal: All accounts

That will load a spreadsheet with detailed budget assumptions.

Bottom line - it's going up about 4% in dollars and they are cutting 160 staff (probably mostly attrition - and mostly kindergarten teachers and aids).

Save for last year when they apparently hired like crazy people (overshooting the original 2014 projected headcount by like 300 people), this appears to be an all time record staffing level.

These are THEIR numbers, not mine. So I figure there is either a massive mistake in their numbers or they are full of crap. I don't think there's a mistake.

Do you read this any different.

I repeat - I'd be mad too. But not about the cuts because there don't appear to be any according to their numbers.

Because they lied. Again.

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Who's obtuse?

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You do realize that the school budget is a master summary of the individual budgets don't you?

Nothing can happen at the school level that isn't reflected in the master budget.

You have actually been misled by those numbers

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Thanks for your helpful link and your thoughtful insights.

The situation though is a little more complicated than it appears on paper. Though you believe there is no mistake in the BPS' numbers, in fact that is precisely what has happened.

If you listen to real people in individual schools themselves, they've been asked to cut far more than what's been placed on paper.

The Curley was looking at a cut on paper of $146,000 under weighted student funding (WSF). In actuality, we had to cut $550,000 with the loss of 14 positions. As of Friday morning, the Curley learned this figure went up to 15.5 positions when the Family and Community Outreach Coordinator was taken away, and a nurse was bumped down to half time. These are the people being cut in the central budget cuts. A nurse for a school of 872 aged 3 and half to 16 is not a what you call a lavish expense. Next year, there will be a Principal, an Assistant Principal, and one guidance counselor left to run two buildings with 850-870+ kids occupying an entire city block because all the other support staff have been laid off - on top of the loss of para professionals and teachers.

The Lyndon is another great example. The BPS paper you should look at is the FY14 vs. FY15 School Allocation Comparison. The Lyndon is losing $9,667 in general funds, under weighted student funding it is losing $52, not $52,000 but 52 bucks. It is also on paper losing $1,641 in Title I funding. In reality, they are laying off 4 positions because their actual, real world budget sees them losing $200,000.

Similar stories at the Mendell in Roxbury, BTU in Jamaica Plain, Bates in Roslindale, the Roger Clap in Dorchester, the Winship in Brighton, the Hurley in the South End, Young Achievers in Mattapan, and the Roosevelt in Hyde Park, and every other Boston neighborhood abound.

The figures you refer to are on paper, which you believe is not a mistake. Yes, indeed these are not your numbers, or mine, They are BPS' numbers. BUT those numbers are very much mistaken in showing the true measure of the crisis parents find themselves in.

The same purchasing power dollars spent on a pitifully underfunded system this year will not buy anywhere close to the same level of services next year when you factor in federal and state funding declines, and cost and pay increases.

The punchline? Your last line about the Mayor causing all this anxiety in order to rattle the cage and get more cash?

I wish that were true. Quite the contrary.

He's told parents that we should count ourselves lucky that he's given us a 4% increase while other departments are taking a 1% to 2% cut.

We are grateful for his 4% increase, but even with that 4% increase, 63 of 119 schools funded under weighted student funding are facing cuts. That's before you factor in loss of federal and state funding together with cost and pay increases, so that figure in the real world that parents are seeing when they look beyond a BPS spreadsheets is likely closer to 90 schools. So much for a 4% increase when it doesn't cover flat funding from this year to the the next.

I wish the Mayor and state politicians used their bully pulpits to help fund our schools. Politicians aggressively championing the cause of 75% of all school age children in Boston they were hired to look after? Now that would be something.

Don't know what you're hearing from their bully pulpits. BPS parents hear crickets.

Please explain

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How does a "master budget" that shows 160 cuts across some 120 schools assign 15 cuts to ONE school - one that is apparently not seeing any loss in students.

Is the Curley getting 9% or so of the cuts? Doubtful

At the end of the day - the budgets in the school have to add up to the totals which are simply aggregations of the individual schools.

Pressed for time - will get back to CK and others in more detail - but again - external funds are technically year to year (although in reality things like school lunch are evergreened) - if the school system has been robbing from there to fund regular operations - shame on them. I've been following these shenanigans for 10 years and they have NEVER mixed external funds - which have fluctuated sometimes wildly - and the operating budget.

And want to go on record - my references to the mayor were to Menino who has played this game forever, not Walsh. Didn't vote for him, but so far I think he's made some good appointments - which is all I can grade him on for now.

Hesitant to join this again, but...

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I'm hesitant to join here because I seem to quickly get cast as the BPS apologist. I just happen to think the budget's more complicated than your bottom line 4% figure. Here's some more detail:

  • The general fund is going up almost $36M, or 4%
  • External funding is going down over $20M
  • Put together, total funding is going up about $15M, or 1%

I know you previously objected to my inclusion of external funds, because you said that they generally fund programs outside of the regular budget, but I believe that the above numbers reflect only those costs that have shifted from being externally funded to being funded out of the general budget. That is, real costs being added to the core BPS budget. Total external funding is decreasing by $32M.

Now, in part thanks to your hounding me in the other thread, I did take a closer look at the budget itself. Here's where things get weird. Of the $15M increase in total funding, over $9M is taken up by increases in general administration costs, and over $7M of that is taken up in increased personnel department costs. That's 61% of the total budget increase going to a department that makes up less than 5% of the total budget. I'm going to try to get an answer from BPS about what's going on there, but at first glance I'm assuming this is up front costs associated with the superintendent's autonomy initiative. In any case, it's a tough cost to have to bear and we absolutely should be demanding an explanation.

The instruction budget is increasing by 1.8%, and student/school support costs are going down by 3.3%. All told, funds devoted to weighted student funding (the vast, vast majority of the funding a school receives to pay its staff) appears to be going up by about 1%, significantly less than is needed to support salary increases, which is why we're seeing shortfalls in individual schools.

Now, there's much more to be said here - we could talk about how cost decreases can't reasonably be made in proportion to enrollment decreases, about how the total enrollment that the city has to pay for is not actually decreasing because the city pays for charter school tuition, etc. But you seem like a bottom line kind of guy. To my eye, it looks like:

  • There are external funding decreases that cannot simply be glossed over, as they cause expenses to be moved from the external fund to the general fund
  • There are some cost increases in general administration that look really bad at first glance and deserve some explanation
  • Taking the above two points into account, the amount eventually making it down to school budgets is a lot less than 4%, and that's what is causing the shortfalls that parents are seeing in their school budgets

As you say, all of this is "according to their numbers". Perhaps you'll agree that there's plenty of blame to go around here.

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It sounds like you agree

The core point the same? The BPS doesn't have a budget funding problem, but a budget allocation problem.

Stevil might be correct that the real issue is lack of accountability on how the money is being spent. Essentially BPS is saying they have to cut the school level staffing due to budget issues. This is true, but only because they aren't willing or able to cut the budget in other ways which aren't immediately visible to parents and kids.

You are correct in that people should be getting mad and active about the issue of school service cut-backs. The protests should be for accountability as to why school level programs are being cut while central costs aren't examined vs. just getting more money for BPS in general.

I really hope Walsh gets a good superintendent who comes in and questions and examines all aspects of the BPS budget vs. just hopping into the drivers seat of the current structure. I'm not optimistic though because Walsh ran on a platform of BPS status quo pretty much.

I partly agree...

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...which was actually the point I was trying to make in the other thread. In my opinion, some of the cost increases are real, some of the cost increases deserve to be questioned, the general fund increase is real, the external funding cuts are real, the overall expense of educating Boston's mostly high-needs student population is very high, reductions in BPS enrollment can not reliably be expected to translate proportionally into reductions in total costs, and a whole bunch of other things.

As I said in the other thread, what really frustrates me is the way that all of these things conspire to make the real cost increases so hard for BPS to bear. But I absolutely think that when you take external funding cuts into account in particular, it's not as simple as just saying, in effect, "the general fund is going up 4% so funding isn't the problem." Like I said, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Regarding the personnel costs, which is the one budget allocation issue that I specifically mentioned, from slide 5 of this presentation it looks like the vast majority of those costs are due to the superintendent's early hiring initiative. So it sounds like BPS has basically decided to pay a pretty significant up-front cost to implement some long term improvements in hiring. Whether the timing is right for that initiative and whether the long term benefits are worth that cost remains to be seen. And if it's really going to be a benefit down the road, the city should be investing in it. You could argue that the city already is, by increasing the general fund by $36M, but then you also have to understand that a big chunk of that $36M isn't really going to make it into next year's budget in any meaningful way.

You have to take the budgets separately

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They have very different functions.

1) I think we can agree - there's plenty of money and staffing in the operating budget - this year's $36 million comes on the heels of about $50 million in EACH of the last two years. As Vaughn astutely points out - there may be a problem of allocation of resources, but there's no shortage of resources.

2) We differ on the external funds. These are never guaranteed from year to year and much of this comes with very specific expiration dates. External funds don't get cut. They just don't come. It's kind of like saying I got a cost of living increase in my salary (the operating fund), but they "cut" my bonus (external funds). They don't "cut" bonuses or external funding. The source of the funds just goes away - for many different reasons. These have to be considered supplemental. We shouldn't be angry they went away. We should be grateful for what we have and have gotten in the past.

Keep in mind a couple years ago we had $170 million in external funds compared to about $125 million now thanks to stimulus spending. this isn't a new or unexpected phenomenon.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news - but this is highly likely to get a lot worse before it gets better. There are a lot of things devouring the budget and increases for anything will probably be harder and harder to come by over the next several years. I'd be surprised if we got a 2-3% increase for the schools next year and most other departments will probably be flat or even cut a little as fixed costs/pensions etc. grow rapidly - and there are few departments that have much left to cut. If the real estate boom ends - and they always do eventually - the screws will really get tight.

because the influx of

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because the influx of kindergarten kids never materialized

The school system is still shrinking - last year by about 1-2%. I believe due to new charters opening in the fall we will see a further reduction in enrollment of 1-2%.

There is a pretty major demographic shift underway - overall numbers of school-age children have declined city-wide - this is why we're seeing a drop in total enrollment, however - there has been a significant increase in the number of well-off white kids in the city - and I'm guessing their families were using the BPS lottery as a hedge against not getting into the affordable private school of their choice. Charters aren't appealing to this demographic because they have a stigma of being disciplinarian testing factories. But in reality they tend to be full of kids from lower-middle-class non-white families who cannot afford private (not a real cross-section of students who attend regular schools).

most lavishly funded school systems

teacher salaries make up less than 1/3 of the entire school budget - BPS teachers aren't even the most highly compensated in the state (they are at #20) - and they're within a few thousand of the overall averages of all districts. that means roughly 2/3s of the budget is going to admin staff, building upkeep, curricula, programs, etc... but to say their budget is "lavish" is hyperbole, which makes it difficult to take your comments serious.

IMO - the real problem in BPS is the high number of students who live in poverty - and far too many of these students need extra services because they have tough home situations. They typically don't end up in charters, but those that do are often "we-don't-have-the-resources"d out of them (ALL charters do this, btw). These kids are the real problem - they disrupt classrooms and demand too much of teacher time - and parents don't want their kids in classrooms where teachers are forced to focus on discipline of one or two students - especially if their kids are easily influenced. Adding more charters does not solve this problem, and will likely make it much worse for regular schools (because these kids unfortunately have to do something very extreme to actually get the attention they need).

everyone's focusing on the wrong issue - we need to make it easier to separate out disruptive students and give them individualized attention - parents wouldn't be so eager to send their kids to charters if they didn't have to worry about their child's peers. No one seems to be saying this - maybe because it isn't PC, but it's the reality.

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Actually

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Teacher salaries are a shade under 41% of the budget. Add in their share of employee benefits and they are probably close to 50% of the budget. You need to be careful about comparing average salaries - two things: 1) Boston's teachers have gotten much younger recently as a large cohort of teachers brought on board in the 60's and 70's to staff up for when the baby boomers were in school recently retired. Also - much of the recent numbers are getting skewed downward as they expand K1/K2 offerings. You have newer teachers teaching kindergarten - the lowest on the pay scale for both seniority and pay level.

If you find a resource comparing say a high school English teacher with 12 years experience across systems, that's a much better measure. No idea how that will turn out - but I'd guess BPS teachers would rank pretty high on that scale statewide and even better on a national level.

When I say lavish - I'm talking cost per pupil - not just the teaching or operating expenses - but all costs. Add everything in and we are spending well over $20k per student even before estimating an imputed cost for real estate (to your point - it costs about $100k to put a teacher in a classroom - but we spend about $500k per class of 25 - special ed makes up a share of that - but it's a lot lower than I think most people realize - we do indeed spend a fortune on overhead). There are probably about 10 or fewer school districts in the state that can boast that level of spending and probably only surpassed by Cambridge among larger communities in Mass.

I agree with you on the disruptive students. But until we fix that problem, we are going to have kids running for the charters as fast as they can "win" the lottery.