Hundreds march through Boston to protest public school budget cuts

The city’s public schools are facing a multi-million-dollar budget deficit in the coming year.

Hundreds of parents, teachers and students marched from City Hall to the State House to protest proposed Boston Public Schools budget cuts.
Hundreds of parents, teachers and students marched from City Hall to the State House to protest proposed Boston Public Schools budget cuts. –Allison Pohle/Boston.com

Sixth-grader K’Damse McGee bounced up and down on her tiptoes in the doorway of Gov. Charlie Baker’s office, trying to see if Baker was inside.

“Can he come out and talk to us?’’ she asked his aide, who stood in the door frame.

“I’m afraid he’s in meetings and won’t be able to speak with you,’’ the aide said.

McGee stopped bouncing, took a step to the side and put her hand on her hip.

“Is he scared?’’ she said.

The aide blushed while some of McGee’s friends from Joseph Lee Elementary School shushed her.

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McGee and her classmates joined several hundred parents, teachers and students Wednesday morning for a walk-in and rally to protest proposed budget cuts for the cash-strapped district. The demonstrators rallied at City Hall and the State House and delivered petitions to both Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh.

The city’s public schools are facing a multi-million-dollar budget deficit in the coming year due to rising expenses and a decline in state and federal aid.

The estimated budget shortfall is about $50 million, though the mayor’s office has said the total figure will be lower when the final budget is determined in late March.

The seven members of the school committee, which votes on the budget, are Boston residents appointed by the mayor who serve four-year staggered terms. Some public education advocates have criticized the fact that the members are not elected by the general public.

Despite stagnant state education aid, Walsh has increased funding for Boston Public Schools by nearly $90 million since he took office, including an increase of $13.5 million for the upcoming school year, said the mayor’s spokeswoman, Laura Oggeri.

“The increased appropriation in his first two years was more than the increase of all other city departmental appropriations combined,’’ she said in a statement. “The city looks forward to working with BPS to find the right balance of continued support for existing programming and services with investments in new initiatives as they move through the budget process.’’

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A spokesman for the district said it welcomes and encourages community input into the budget process.

“The district’s commitment to excellence in teaching and learning continues,’’ Daniel O’Brien said in a statement. “School staff is committed to ensuring that students are given access to rigorous instruction that is preparing them for college and career success.’’

Timothy Nagaoka, a Japanese teacher, brought his dogs to the demonstration. —Allison Pohle/Boston.com

Outside the State House, Timothy Nagaoka, a Japanese teacher, held two small dogs and a signs that said “Puppies against BPS budget cuts.’’

“I teach Japanese in six different Boston Public Schools to students in elementary and middle schools,’’ he said. “I haven’t gotten any assurance as to what will happen if there are budget cuts. I think I’ll lose my position, and the 300 students who I teach will lose their program.’’

As for the puppies?

“They’re also concerned for the budget cuts,’’ Nagaoka said. “And if you’re for budget cuts, then you’re against puppies, and no one wants to be against puppies.’’

Jessica Pereira, a seventh-grader at Joseph Lee, said her school would suffer if arts programs were cut.

“We have to wear uniforms, so we can’t express ourselves through our clothes,’’ she said. “With music and art, we have a chance to express ourselves that way. If those programs are gone, there’s no way for students to express themselves in schools.’’

The governor’s press secretary, Lizzy Guyton, said in a statement that the budget continues to reduce the state’s billion-dollar deficit while “increasing investments in education.’’

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Baker’s aides suggested the demonstrators write the governor a letter to file a formal request to meet. An organizer pulled a sheet of notebook paper out of his backpack and scribbled one down. before they left.

“I think Governor Baker was procrastinating,’’ Pereira said.

“Yeah, me too,’’ McGee said, then looked over her shoulder at the office. “But we’ll be back.’’

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