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Panel says BPS could save money by shutting schools, reducing teacher salary increases and making more kids walk to school

A committee set up to consider how to keep Boston Public Schools afloat today released a series of suggestions it says could save the system $100 million a year. Among them:

Shut schools. Boston has too many underutilized and small schools. Time to end that. Also, enough with the 24 different configurations of grade levels at different schools: Settle on a systemwide series of levels to transition from one school to the next.

Don't give teachers such big raises anymore. On average, Boston teachers now earn $16,000 more than teachers in surrounding suburbs even though we have some of the shortest school days in the country. The committee is of the opinion the BTU would go along with reducing future salary increases - and adding 40 minutes to the school day - to bring Boston in line with those other communities.

Make more kids walk to school and reduce school choice.

While the state requires the district to provide transportation only to kindergarten through sixth-grade students who live more than two miles away from school, BPS offers transportation for elementary students who live more than one mile from school, middle school students who live more than 1.5 miles from school, and high school students who live more than two miles from school.

Also, BPS spends too much on busing kids to schools farther away from their homes because the current assignment system requires students to get a chance at at least one high-performing school even if not near their homes. The committee says, fine, let those kids stay in those more distant schools, but BPS shouldn't pay to bus them anymore.

This is all compounded by the need to have multiple layers of bus readiness because of the fact that BPS schools now have three different opening times - and some have longer hours than others. So slash the number of bell times, and, while you're at it, increase the maximum possibly time a kid should spend on a bus from 60 to 90 minutes, which would mean fewer bus routes.

Convince the legislature to help Boston. The committee says Boston has lost $48 million over the past three years because the state failed to pay as much as it promised to reimburse BPS for kids who moved to charter schools. The problem only compounds in the future because Boston is designated a "rich" community, even though it has a higher percentage of special-needs and English learners than other school districts and charter schools. The committee calls for working with legislators - the majority of whom do not represent Boston - to fix this. Also, the city needs more flexibility to bring in new revenue because, in part, of the limitations set by Prop 2 1/2. The committee report does not, however, discuss the possibility of asking voters to override Prop. 2 1/2 to help schools.

As net state aid is declining and Boston generates nearly one-fifth of state tax revenues (2014), we should advocate that Boston is given more flexibility to modify its revenue structure.

And while they're at it, the legislature should change teacher tenure laws so local principals would have more flexibility in hiring teachers - and in not having to pay teachers who don't get chosen for a teaching slot.

Reduce overhead. Both in central administration and for special-needs programs.

Members of the Long Term Financial Planning Process committee included BPS and city administrators, Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman, two BPS parents, Boston Municipal Research Bureau President Sam Tyler and Charlestown High School Headmaster Will Thomas.

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Comments

I swear I heard on the WBUR story this morning that transportation costs had gone up $40m over the past 5 years. That seems crazy high - is that real?

If so, why?

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You can put all the seventh and eighth graders on the T, but if the school has sixth graders, they're still taking the same bus but it's not empty. That's not really a savings.
If you change the school assignment policy around to abolish the three zones and make clustery type things, but all the kids are grandfathered at their old schools, then you actually need more busing, not less. That's increased expense.
Charter kids get bused too, at district expense, and they are citywide schools. That's increased expense.

Look at the next school bus you see, and count heads. Two? Three? The bus costs the same driving around mostly empty.

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Charter school parents should be paying extra for the privilege of sending their kids to schools which exclude students with learning difficulties and behavioral issues. You want your kids to be educated in a protective bubble without sending them to private? Then you should pay your share for this special entitlement. Fair is fair.

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And that is enough. Public education is a right and not a privilege. My son goes to a charter and has learn difficulties! Wow, how did that happen? His name was selected off a waiting list from a lottery - very public and open lottery. His charter school has a support group for parents of special ed students.

And guess what else, the kids he goes to school with are not hand selected angels. They are regular kids, some well-behaved, some not, just like any PUBLIC school.

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A while back a political compromise was made whereby the cost of transporting charter schools students was put of the school district in which the charter is located. It doesn't make sense from a cost fairness point of view. Arguably it makes sense from a transportation efficiency point of view.

BPS enrollment process, whereby you get a choice from a list of geographically proximate schools was supposed to reduce transportation cost as well as foster community centered schools. An equity analysis of our enrollment system is due in December.

That said, if you have district school choice and charter school choice, you increase transportation costs.

The dumbest idea on the list is closing schools. Naturally this entire process is about Every community deserves a school. Every kids deserves the resources they need to read the bars we set.

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also get city buses for the kids which has always seemed a little nuts to me, given the dire finances.

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Apparently they have an extra $100 million sloshing around.

Private school kids' parents pay taxes, but put no burden on the system other than a small amount of transit. Sounds like a bargain for the city.

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since I don't own a car and don't require paved streets or meter maid salaries, the city should buy me a new bike and some shoes every year. It'd be nice but the schools don't cost less to run because X number of parents opt out.

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the schools don't cost less to run because X number of parents opt out.

Well they kinda do actually, hence the recommendation to close all of those underutilized schools. If an entire classroom's worth of kids doesn't go to a public school, that's a teacher salary you don't have to pay. The marginal costs might be law, but once enough kids leave, the numbers really start to add up.

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we have about 57k students and 61k seats, but we don't have to hire teachers for classrooms with no kids.

school selection process is parent driven and because of that, it's unlikely we'd try to merge two half full classes from schools 10 blocks away. but that's a cost efficiency they'd love to realize.

Marty Walsh is walking the BPS community through the austerity years and I think it is all about pressure coming from the business lobby. These proposals match categories Sam Tyler whined about at the Ways & Means/ Question 2 city council hearing. He also announced this report which I thought was weird since he doesn't work in the Walsh admin, he's a lobbyist who works at BMRB.

At the same time, we're going to replace 90% of our firetrucks in two years, and likely spend $100m on an arguably wasteful new bridge. Walsh did ask BPD to trim about 25% off their OT budget. These are growth and minor cuts compared to what, three years of Marty school budgets have proposed.

Boston spends about 127% of foundation budget, better than some, not as much as many. The resources the kids have at their disposal I'd predict is way below average, such as libraries, computers you get the picture.

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You are kidding right?

The budget increases (total budget and school) under Walsh are among the highest in recent memory and probably the largest in history on a dollar basis.

The school budget goes up about the same percent as the overall budget. Was true under Menino and is true now. That's also about true for police and fire.

If you look at what's increasingly devouring the budget, have a gander at pensions. I think double digit increases or close for the past several years. Still small dollarwise but that's eating every discretionary dollar.

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Private school kids typically pay extra for school bus service, often thousands of dollars a year. Kids get on and off at a few designated locations (the Park School in Brookline has a bus that goes to and from Forest Hills, for instance--at least they did a few years ago) These are buses provided by the private school. I am unaware of any private school in the area that uses Boston public school buses (if that's what you meant by "city buses").

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Has multiple yellow busses outside each school day.

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Partly negotiated salary increases, partly the fact that the move from a three-zone system to the sorta no-zone system they have now meant increases because some kids were now being bused even longer distances (the new system guarantees a shot at a "good" school in case all your nearby schools have bad test results). Plus, all the kids enrolled in the older system were grandfathered, which kinda means you have two systems still in place.

If there were increases in charter enrollments, that probably added to the issue a bit because state law requires BPS to bus charter kids and charter schools are all citywide.

Aside from the salary increases, maybe, none of this was a surprise. After ten years of failing to change the three-zone system to save on busing costs (the sticking point was always that no matter how you redid zones, you always ended up with at least one zone where all the schools had bad test scores), BPS (well, somebody at MIT, actually) came up with the new system, and even proponents acknowledged that in the short run it would mean higher busing costs.

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the sticking point was always that no matter how you redid zones, you always ended up with at least one zone where all the schools had bad test scores

Sticking point? That's a nice euphemism. Don't tell me - it's Louise Day Hicks' fault. And charter schools are a conspiracy against the children of Boston.

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This has nothing to do with her. Now why don't you come out and admit your biases?

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One reason (beyond general transportation cost increases) might be that BPS has to bus kids that go to the Charter schools, even though those schools already get the money each kid brings when they enroll. Busing kids to extra schools all around the city while still busing kids to BPS schools, I would think, would increase costs.

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From friend who works at Transportation Office: in sum: there are laws regarding how long kids can be on a bus; there are parents/politicians who get bus services because they make significant amounts of noise; there are multiple kids who cross the city everyday for school from charters, catholic and public. this is just the start for this area, currently the transportation office is the scape goat for BPS admin types who have little understanding of how the process works even though they are in the same building.

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Yes. Longer school day is a good start. How about fixing the school assignment plan and making it a little less byzantine and maybe getting more kids to stay in their neighborhood. I am shocked that the Charter School money was short three years in a row. That’s not what I saw on TV!!! It is really sad that a BPS kid in elementary school could ride the bus 2-3 hours a day. Come on are we a world class city or not!!

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Eliminate city residency requirements. I have good friends who work for the city and can't afford to buy property here. It's only a matter of time before they have to choose a) living with more roommates into their 40s but keep their job or b) find a new job where the cost of living is lower.

Teacher salaries are required to stay competitive when the cost of living is absurd.

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Maybe it's only for new teachers? Because most of our daughter's teachers did not live in Boston (one lived in RI and one, amazingly, lived in Maine).

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They could be grandfathered. I work for the BPS but moved out of Boston before the residency requirement and I am grandfathered.

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Never heard of requiring teachers to be residents of the city - many I had (admittedly quite some time ago) didn't live in Boston. As for room mates - who knows, but starting at 50k and maxing out to 90-100k after 9 years I would think they wouldn't really need a roommate if they didn't want one - Boston is expensive, but it ain't that expensive.

https://btu.org/contract-highlights/2010-2016-teachers-contract/

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As far as I remember, it's a state (not city law) that teachers can live anywhere - teachers specifically don't have a residency requirement. Others (central administrators, non-union) may, however.

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BPS teachers don't have to live in the city of Boston

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Sweet Christ we don't have enough opportunities to discuss property costs and income inequality here. Also, thanks for wasting our time by being completely 100% wrong. Well done.

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Boston is still undoing the structural racism of years gone by. Schools are an obvious manifestation.

You've got to let kids leave their neighborhood to go to school. And sure, you could save money by making kids pay for their busing and making them sit on buses longer. But what have you achieved? You've made it harder for kids from poor families to go to schools that are in those kids best interest, and you've taken time away from studying, making a few bucks at a job, or doing extra curricular because that kid spends more time on a bus.

Want to do right by the kids? Fix the bureaucratic stuff, and extend the school day, and extend the school year. But don't make it tougher on poor kids, and don't make kids lose even more time each day to non-productive activities like sitting on a bus.

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Or, instead of busy, think long term and actually invest/reform the poor performing schools in poorer neighborhoods ?

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how about fixing the under performing schools. yes extend the day fix the underlying problem that has been at the core of all of this since 1972. Make the neighborhood schools all good, do whatever it takes.

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But you can't fundamentally improve all BPS schools by enough over a single summer. Lots of other changes can be made in a short time frame, so do those.

Some gains can be had in the short run, others require long term thinking and effort. Do both.

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After all this time, given the demographic and economic changes of the past forty years, I'm not convinced that kids being bused from Roxbury to Brighton or East Boston to Charlestown are really gaining huge advantages that wouldn't be outweighed by focusing on improving neighborhood schools and strengthening community involvement in those schools. I'd be curious to hear evidence to the contrary or anecdotes even--it just seems that the resources spent on transportation are so huge and the geographic distance of these schools adds such complex challenges for working families to get involved, have a certain level of ownership and local control. It's hard to feel really vested when your kids school is all the way across the city.

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Student outcomes are far more tied into parental class, earnings, and involvement than to any potential factor the school can contribute. "Fix the neighborhood schools" pretty much requires fixing the entire neighborhood, first and foremost.

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The corollary of the argument that "student outcomes are far more tied into parental class, earnings, and involvement than to any potential factor the school can contribute" is that so-called low-performing schools aren't actually low-performing schools, they're schools with low-performing kids. Therefore, busing as a method to reduce disparities among schools is a farce, because wherever you go, there you are.

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It's certainly a factor nobody wants to admit.

The one advantage to school choice / busing / charters, however, is that it does provide parents who are maybe low-education/earnings themselves but high-involvement with their children the opportunity to push their kids into better opportunities. Peer grouping does have some effect, if only in a roundabout way by influencing whether kids get involved in crime / truancy / etc.

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You're joking, right? Busing began OVER 40 YEARS AGO! This is the end of 2016! The majority of BPS students are non-white, and are being bused all over the city to schools with majority non-white students.

Racism....racism everywhere! Sarcasm off.

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It's one thing in the suburbs, where most families can drive their kids to school if the walk is too far or unsafe. But making 6 year olds walk 2 miles to school, often through dangerous areas, is unreasonable - especially in the winter, when sidewalks are often impassible, leading to them having to walk in the street. It might be reasonable to impose bus fees on kids living closer than that (as long as there's a hardship waiver).

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You mean...um... U mean, "2 miles is 2 long -----> 4 <------ kids"

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Is being drained by the astronomical salaries of cops and firefighters.
Teachers don't get paid too much. Cops and firefighters do. I don't begrudge anyone a living wage but all the cops I know drive luxury cars and many have second homes. They are the ones driving up the cost of homes in many neighborhoods. God forbid anyone stands up to them but it's ok to tell teachers that they make too much.

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That the starting salary for a teacher is about $57000 for 42 weeks and about $61000 for a cop for 52 weeks? So really we pay teachers more (I'm not making the argument that one deserves it more than another - just pointing out that teachers actually earn more per week than cops so your argument that cops/firefighters are draining the system more doesn't stand). There's also twice as many teachers in BPS as police in BPD. Feel free to check the city of Boston webpage for the union agreements to confirm the amounts.

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not $57,000. You have to remember that not all teachers start with their Master's degree. I would be willing to bet that a majority of BPS teachers did not start with their Masters but earned them as they work. Also, teachers can't pick up details or overtime like BPD can to earn extra cash. Which I presume a majority, if not all, of BPD uses to their advantage and therefore increasing their yearly salary. I agree that both deserve strong salaries but want to even out the discussion a little.

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A cop after 5,10,15 years makes the same as the cop in his first year. Teachers step increases are about 4K a year.

And details don't come out of the public budget which is the issue here.

Probably one of the issues is that problem teachers, like problem cops and firefighters are tough to get rid of and are costly.

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by working details. Teachers do not have that benefit.

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they can tutor and make quick cash

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So that money doesn't count when discussing budget issues.

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It seems that a lot can be solved if things are standardized across the system.

Also, I know this sounds pessimistic, but there is no political will (especially from the unions) to make any of these changes.

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Did the committee take a look of the forty new hires who work at the Bolling building. They are in jobs made up for them by the current school department administration. These salaries combined is well over $500,00 plus benefits.

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On average, Boston teachers now earn $16,000 more than teachers in surrounding suburbs

And on average, how does their cost of living compare to teachers in surrounding suburbs? This is a terrible idea.

Just look at San Francisco-they have a serious teacher shortage because teachers can't afford to live there anymore, and many of the forces at work causing housing issues there are the same here. Learn from other cities' mistakes...

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How many different qualifications and certifications do those teachers have to work with a much more disadvantaged and special education rich population?

That's called incentive pay, dimwits!

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SF is way more geographically isolated than Boston in terms of access from outlying 'burbs. Also as noted by other posters, the cost of living for a teacher in Newton or Westwood is the same as for a Boston teacher because they likely live in the same places.

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SF is way more geographically isolated than Boston in terms of access from outlying 'burbs.

It took me 40 mins to get from Jeffries Point to Town Fair Tire in Everett yesterday. At 2:30 in the afternoon. Hell, it used to take me 35-45 mins to get from Eastie to Washington Sq. in the AM and 45- and hour for the reverse for work, and that was if I drove instead of the T. Getting around the Bay Area sucks and the geography contributes, but the traffic here isn't exactly smooth sailing either.

And do you have an demographic data to back the "probably" live in the same place argument?

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How many elementary schools would it take to cover Boston so that every student lived within a 2 mile radius of an elementary school?

If they did this, could they abolish busing entirely?

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Two problems:

Not all schools are equal in terms of test scores and you would wind up with pockets where the two-mile limit would mean kids (and parents) would have no choice short of trying for a charter school or Metco.

Another one of the committee's proposals is shutting smaller schools. That could really whack some neighborhoods that mainly only have small schools (like Roslindale and West Roxbury, with the exception of the Ohrenberger/Beethoven), leaving them without enough schools to meet demand even before you put a two-mile radius in place.

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To add to Adam comment, you could do what you are proposing if you had a spare few billion lying around to build larger, better schools across the city. For example, where could we even build a Rosi K-8 if we wanted to? Off American Legion where that giant development was proposed? Size the northern end of George Wright golf course (kidding)?

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My question assumes that all the K-8s would be closed or pared back to K-6, whichever is easier. All K-5s should also become K-6. The report says that Boston has 24 different school configurations. Confusion favors the prepared. Boston should reduce the number of types of schools, and put them in two categories: either K-6 or 7-12.

BPS makes it clear that they have a legal responsibility to bus kids up through 6th grade, but no legal responsibility to bus kids in 7th and 8th grades. That means that, to maximize savings, all kids they have a responsibility to bus should be in one type of facility, which does have buses, and all kids they don't have a responsibility to bus should be in another type of facility - which doesn't have buses. That would reduce paying to bus kids they don't have to bus as well as sending mostly-empty buses to schools they don't need to. In short, there should be no K-8 schools in Boston, or 6-8 schools, because they're a waste of money.

The funny thing about school dispersion is that, driving around, you can see that the city used to be covered at about a 1 mile granulation with elementary schools. Most of these were closed at some point and sold off to become condos or old folks' homes, because of two things: the rapid decline in the number of kids in certain neighborhoods, and the desire to streamline to meet the new busing mandate.

Surprisingly, not enough schools were actually closed to make a lot of spaces on the map without an elementary school within two miles. Here's the current map:
http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/cms/lib07/MA01906464/Centricity/Domai...

There used to be a lot more schools, and they're not coming back. The city could eminent domain some, but they'd have to pay fair market value in the tens of millions. The city is probably never going to need that many schools again, though, because few people have so many kids anymore.

I haven't input this to any GIS, but the map has a scale and you can pretty much eyeball the fact that almost the entire city is within two miles of an elementary school. There is really very little of the city that isn't - maybe one corner of Kenmore up by the river.

This suggests that, legally, Boston could just end busing outright except for overflow - when a neighborhood has too many kids to fit into the schools within two miles - and that the main thing driving this 100 million cost is the continuing student roulette in pursuit of desegregation.

Remember also that the state law that requires busing for private and charter school students is only legally applicable to kids who live more than two miles away from a public school, which is close to nobody in Boston. That's another thing the city could just stop doing.

Boston should (eventually, soon) stop doing both, and spend that 100 million on making the schools better.

I, for one, am sick of the double argument that, on the one hand, exam school admissions are unfair because all a test shows is how rich your parents are; and, on the other, that the schools poor kids go to are clearly unequal because look the test scores are worse. Sorry, you can't have both.

A two step process is needed.

First, Boston should immediately resize all the schools to serve either K-6 or 7-12, without mixing. No 7-12 schools should have busing. That's tens of millions saved, immediately. No kids in private or charter should get a benefit that public school kids don't, so if any 7-12 charter or private kids are on a free bus, take the T like the rest of us.

The next step is to work towards ending busing altogether, by focusing on improvement in the supposedly bad schools. Put so much good stuff at those schools - tutors, sports, therapists, better lunches - that white middle-class parents want to move to the neighborhood to get it. That's how you'll know Boston is ready to end busing and go back to neighborhood elementary schools.

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A firm commitment to creating, maintaining and enforcing safe routes to school for walkers and biking students.

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The most ridiculous busing program around is Metco. Can we get rid of that please?

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The kids get a good education in Weston. Wellesley and Needham etc. Train to Needham!

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It wouldn't save Boston any money.

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How about instead of closing schools and trying to cut buses these damn politicians that we elected stop giving themselves raises how about that

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People should be aware that police details are essentially a second job and many officers don't even want to be on the call list. There are plenty of teachers who bartend on weekends, paint houses in the summer, tutor etc. When an exorbitant police salary is published, it's often the result of back pay from a lawsuit or someone working 16 hour days. I don't have a kid in the system but the BPS has always struck me as a behemoth that could be far more efficient. Limit busing, that seems like the biggest waste. There are also advantages for a kid to attend a "poor performing" school. I'm sure it's a lot easier to be valedictorian at Southie High than at Boston Latin.

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