Hundreds of protesters from the Boston Teachers Union and other groups joined forces for a boisterous rally this afternoon to protest school-funding cuts, hours before the School Committee was expected to approve a budget for next year that slashes tens of millions of dollars.
The protesters banged drums, blared sirens, and waved signs, including some that said "Budget cuts hurt kids" and "Underfunding equals underperforming.'' Police closed off traffic to a section of Court Street downtown near the school committee building and barricaded the front door when the meeting room filled up.
While school district administrators do not anticipate laying off teachers, they have said that many retiring teachers will not be replaced, which could potentially cause class sizes to increase.
In developing the $821.4 million proposed budget, Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said she tried to avoid making cuts that would directly affect classroom learning. Consequently, one area being hit hard is the custodial staff, which would lose more than 80 positions, much of it through layoffs. The custodian union will be joining teachers today to rally for preservation of their jobs.
"Custodians are on the front line in our schools when it comes to health and safety problems," Michael Lafferty, the custodian union's business representative, said in a prepared statement before the planned rally. "Failure to clean bathrooms and classrooms after even just one child has been sick can allow the rapid spread of illnesses throughout a school."
The $821.4 million budget request is the same amount as the district is spending this year on the 56,000-student school system. But the rising costs of doing business, such as escalating health care premiums and contractually negotiated pay raises, are forcing the district to cut about $50 million in spending to meet Mayor Thomas M. Menino's request for a so-called level-funded budget for next year.
The committee's expected approval of the superintendent's budget will represent the third consecutive year of cuts. The committee must approve a budget tonight -- the latest possible date allowed under its bylaws -- so it can be forwarded to Menino for inclusion in his city budget proposal, which will be presented to the City Council next month.
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