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Menino proposes cutting 565 jobs

Police, schools would see biggest reductions

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By Donovan Slack and John C. Drake
Globe Staff / April 8, 2009
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Mayor Thomas M. Menino today will propose laying off 565 city workers, including public school teachers, police officers, and librarians, cutbacks that Boston officials said are needed to help balance the $2.4 billion city budget.

The job cuts are a response to the national recession and decreases in state aid. The budget, which Menino will present to the City Council today, requires pink slips for 212 teachers and classroom aides, 67 police officers, 44 police cadets, and 39 community center employees. Twenty-six library workers will lose their jobs, including four librarians.

Also among the casualties are mounted units of the Police Department and park rangers. The city hopes to find adoptive homes for its 24 horses, officials said.

The picture could have been worse. Nearly 200 jobs were saved by wage freezes that were accepted by 22 of the city's municipal unions, said Lisa Signori, Cabinet chief for finance and administration.

"We balanced this budget in a way that protects the city's fiscal foundation and its future," she said.

The impact on police can be minimized by moving more officers into patrol roles to fill in for those who will be laid off, Signori said. Librarians will be cut not from neighborhood branches but from the Copley Square library, which can absorb the hit with a smaller effect on service, she said. Throughout the system, library hours will not change. The city's 46 community centers and pools also remain on the same schedules.

Signori said that if more unions agree to wage freezes and if stimulus money arrives in time, some jobs slated for elimination in the mayor's budget could be saved. The 67 police officers, for example, aren't scheduled to be laid off until Oct. 1, giving the city time to lobby for more state and federal aid.

Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, said yesterday he is counting on such a development.

"When the work is done, we believe there'll be no legitimate reason to lay off anyone at the end of this process," Nee said.

Boston Teachers Union president Richard Stutman said he also believes more federal stimulus money will be routed to the City of Boston that could save teachers from layoffs. In addition, he said, he believes most of the cuts can be reached through attrition.

"We see absolutely no need to lay off a single person," Stutman said.

The City Council is expected to spend the next few months debating the budget and could ask the mayor to revise it before the council's final deadline for passage July 1.

If police officers are laid off, it would be the first time in 27 years that the city cut officers, and it would cut into expansion of the police force undertaken since homicides reached a 10-year high of 75 in 2005. At this point in 2005, there had been 14 homicides; there have been 12 thus far this year.

Darnell Williams, executive director of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, said the cuts in the Police Department and community centers must be handled in a way that does not imperil previous gains.

"You're talking two critical areas, especially in light of the spike in violence and crime in our neighborhoods," Williams said yesterday. "We're going to have to rally around these areas and make sure we redeploy the right people."

Jorge Martinez, executive director of Project Right, a coalition of community groups based in Roxbury's Grove Hall neighborhood, said the cuts are not as bad as they could have been. As long as the cuts in community centers do not affect street workers and staff members who work directly with youth, they should not affect youth violence prevention efforts, he said.

City officials said the cuts to staff of the Boston Centers for Youth and Families would involve eliminating a layer of middle management.

"This doesn't seem like a big hit to me," Martinez said yesterday.

Overall, the budget represents a $5 million increase from the current year. Menino is using $40 million from the city's rainy day fund, about a third of the $120 million in the account. It also factors in $20 million in federal stimulus funding.

Earlier this year, Menino said the city faced a budget gap of $140 million because of increased personnel costs, expected decreases in state aid, and diminished revenue related to the crippled economy.

Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said the number of projected layoffs is lower than he expected given the city's budget problems. He said the budget's reliance on one-time revenue - including stimulus funding, wage freezes, and reserve withdrawal - could pose problems down the road.

"There are dollars being used [in the proposed budget] for fiscal 2010 that may not be available in fiscal 2011, and fiscal 2011 is going to be no easier, and could be even more difficult, than next year," Tyler said.

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.