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BPS enrollment keeps shrinking, yet busing costs keep escalating; councilors want to know why

The Boston City Council agreed today to hold a hearing to look into what can be done about a school-transportation budget that continues to increase.

The council agreed with a request by Councilor Annissa Essaibi George (at large) to look into what's going on. It was one of ten BPS-related hearing requests the councilor introduced today - which also included calling for a look at, finally, making Madison Park a world-class vocational school, looking at whether to change the way School Committee members are chosen and looking at how to keep BPS students safe, from everything from crazed gunmen to needles.

BPS "continues to have cost overruns year after year" for transportation - not to mention what has now become annual chaos at the start of the school year due to bus-route changes, Essaibi George said.

Councilor Michael Flaherty (at large) agreed, that it's time to look at why transportation costs "spiral out of control" each year.



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Shouldn't it have more to do with student body dispersion, school choices, and, I dunno, gas prices and stuff? Costs the same to run a bus from point A to point B whether there's 10 kids on it or 20...

Voting closed 35

Contribute to traffic congestion and global warning.

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Ask any parent with school-age kids and they will tell you that over half of their potential school options (generated by the BPS algorithm) are further away from their home than other closer options. Why bus kids to distant schools as a standard practice when they have other nearby that they would prefer? makes no sense - and there you have BPS. Bottom line, you don't need all of the buses.

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Hello, I'm a parent with school-age kids in BPS, who navigated the lottery for the first time a couple years back. As with all students enrolling since 2015, my kids are eligible to choose from a handful of schools located less than 1 mile (as the crow flies) from my listed residential address, plus a smaller number of schools designated as zone-free because they offer some service that a neighborhood school might not. (For example anyone living anywhere in Boston can apply to the Hernandez because of its unique Spanish-language instruction option).

There are two exceptions to this rule: (1) you're grandfathered into whichever school you originally enroll in, so if your child is enrolled at the Manning and you move to Roslindale, you don't have to uproot and re-apply through the lottery, though you are welcome to do so if you want (2) if your lottery result is poor enough that you do not get a seat at any of the five schools you have rank-ordered on your application, and your child is at least five years of age, the city is legally required to provide a seat for him/her, which might mean you get bused from Brighton to East Boson if (for example) the only open seats are in East Boston. This second case is more common in parts of the city that are geographically more distant from schools, as parents in (for example) Readville might not have five schools within the eligible radius.

The situation you're discussing, where anyone can send their kid anywhere in the city, does not exist and has not existed in years.

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What makes me crazy is that it seems that most kids are driven to school in my neighborhood. Pope's Hill is a parking lot every day because of this. Why am I paying any taxes for a bus if it the kids don't use it?

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Looks like they spent about $95 million in 2014 and now they have budgeted $105 million for 2020 on transportation. It bounces around a little - but it's consistently about $100 million +/- and I'd guess most of that increase is collective bargaining increases from bus drivers.

Certainly money to be saved - but maybe 5-10% unless they change policy (which may be their true objective of raising this as an issue?)

But there are MUCH bigger fish to fry in the budget. Pensions anyone? (I believe pension costs are going up about 10% a year for several years now and are probably the fastest growing line item in the budget.

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between the union and the City of Boston, and most of the year-over-year costs go toward paying teachers who have already retired. They're not discretionary spending, and they're not an expense that can be unilaterally cut, and even if you could slash spending for a given year, you'd have to do so by cutting payments to retired teachers with little or no other income.

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And I'm on the record many times over saying you have to abide by your contractual commitments. I'm talking about going forward things need to change. Most of these pensions (city pensions - which cover BPS staff and teacher pensions) have absurd assumptions like stock returns in the range of 8% - which is HIGHLY unlikely.

And if things get bad enough we'll have to go Rhode Island on them - where the unions were told we can pay you 100% for the next 5 years or so and then zero, or you can take 60 cents on the dollar and fix the problem for the long term. They opted for the 60 cents.

The unions could say give us the whole dollar - but the taxes would generate a mass exodus from the city and state and then they would still end up with zero.

Pensions are pretty well funded - but they are still reliant on decent returns which are not likely given where the market is now, although of course almost infinite variations on that, especially if interest rates remain in their current range.

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How are public pensions funded?

Funding for public pensions comes from three sources: employee contributions, employer contributions, and investment earnings. Of the three, investment earnings typically make up the majority: more than 70 percent. Historically, state and local government employers have contributed 19.4 percent of pension plan revenues. The remaining 10.6 percent is contributed by public employees, who pay for their pension with every paycheck.

Aren’t public pensions in a crisis?

No. Most public pension plans are well-funded and their funding levels are improving. One study found that the average funding ratio across all public pension plans improved by 10 points from 2009 to 2013. Another study estimates that most plans will reach sustainable funding levels by 2018. According to the Wall Street Journal, the top five public pensions are all over 100 percent funded.

As I have said before, just because you drank the corporate koolaid doesn't mean the rest of us are so misled.

Voting closed 19

Massachusetts is about 60% funded. New Jersey, Kentucky and Illinois are fucking disasters that can't be fixed without killing the patient.

"Another study estimates that most plans will reach sustainable funding levels by 2018"

Huh? Wake up, Rip .... this is 2020.

"the average funding ratio across all public pension plans improved by 10 points from 2009 to 2013."

So starting right after a crushing recession, .... Nice way to tilt the results.

Voting closed 12

You have similar understanding of finances and you are making my argument for me.

Yes, actually Mass and even NY are not in the terrible shape of many other states largely due to solid funding. However, even we will feel the pain if there is a sustained 20% drop in the markets or a market that increases little or not at all over the next several years. Note your comment that 70% of funding comes from market returns.

These drops have always happened in the past and are likely to happen again. Given off the chart market valuations and while we remain far less than 100% funded in most cases, the crisis probably arrives sooner rather than later. But we do live in unusual times, so who knows.

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Can you give me links to learn more. This sounds astronomically high - 70% investment earnings?

.. investment earnings typically make up the majority: more than 70 percent.

The bond market is paying 3%.

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Not positive - but what I think they are saying is the following:

Say a teacher and the city each put $6k per year into a retirement program over a 30 year career on average. That's $360k in employee/employer contributions.

now lets say they pay out $80k per year over a 15 year retirement or 1.2 Million. The balance of $1.2 mm - $360k = $840k comes from investment earnings or - 30% from contributions and 70% from earnings.

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I should have provided the link, i usually do. But this is still off topic. I think the info I pasted was biased, pro public pension, so that is an issue.

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with that $105m if it were put into classrooms and school programs.

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Even if you had community schools etc. you'd still have about $60-$70 million in busing costs. You can't save 100% of this.

So the $30 million? Actually BPS has boatloads of money. They just don't spend it well. Assuming you could save $30-$40 million it would be much better spent in some other department - parks, transportation, EMS etc. NOT in the schools.

BPS has lots of problems. Lack of funds is nowhere on that list.

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The reason why enrollment is down because BPS is one of, or thee worst run school system in the country. There are other communities around that are run so much better and smarter than BPS!

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Thanks for adding to the discourse.

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