Boston Superintendent Carol R. Johnson tonight warned of devastating cuts at every school across the city if the district does not close schools and reduce transportation spending.
In a sobering presentation of the district’s precarious financial situation, Johnson told the School Committee that budget cuts could shrink or eliminate programs for early childhood education, the arts, drop-out prevention, and family outreach. Facility improvements and the purchase of textbooks and supplies, areas that have been cut in recent years, could take another hit.
The scenarios — following Johnson’s controversial recommendations last month to close several schools — represent the stark realities confronting the school system as it prepares for its fourth consecutive year of budget cutting. The district is projecting a $63 million shortfall for the school year beginning September 2011, and officials revealed tonight the 2012-13 school year could be even worse, with an anticipated $91 million shortfall.
‘‘To maintain our commitment to improving academic quality, we must focus on investing in programs that work, on making strategic budget cuts, and finding efficiencies in part through school closures and mergers, and also through changes to the teachers’ contract,’’ Johnson said, reading from prepared remarks.
Johnson and her staff presented the dire financial outlook following the public backlash over her school-closing recommendations, which initially gave short shrift in addressing the city’s bleak finances. Instead, the proposal was packaged as an academic improvement plan, creating much public confusion.
Affected parents, staff, and students saw the proposal as nothing but a cost-cutting measure, and they organized spirited campaigns to save their schools. Fiscal watchdogs said the initial recommendation to close six schools and merge two others was too small to shore up the School Department’s finances.
Johnson, who slightly scaled back the proposal last month then later withdrew the entire proposal, is now planning to present a larger set of recommendations at a special School Committee meeting scheduled for Dec. 2. The committee would then vote on Dec. 15.
As in the past three years, sluggish city and state revenue and with rising fixed costs — such as negotiated salary increases, health care premiums, and utility bills — are conspiring to create another challenging financial picture.
Over the past several years, the School Department has eliminated 771 positions, enacted a wage freeze for managers and principals and a hiring freeze for nonteaching positions, improved energy efficiency, and cut some bus routes. It closed six schools and merged others at the end of the 2008-09 school year.
The cuts could have been worse had the school system not received additional money from City Hall and the federal stimulus funds — sources that are not expected to be available in the coming years.
The district has already started to chip away at the $63 million shortage for next year, thanks to $10 million the department is receiving from a special one-time federal grant intended to preserve teaching jobs.
James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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