Here’s what’s in the updated Boston Public Schools budget—and what’s not

Superintendent Tommy Chang.
Superintendent Tommy Chang. –Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe / File

After weeks of protests, petitions and public hearings, Boston public school officials unveiled the newest developments in the budget Wednesday night to a standing-room-only crowd in the Bolling building made up of dozens of concerned parents, students and teachers.

The budget shortfall was initially estimated at $50 million when it was first announced in January. The version released Wednesday night estimated about $32 million worth of cuts district-wide.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Boston Public Schools calculates its annual budget based on a “Weighted Student Funding’’ model, which allocates dollars to students rather than to programs, buildings or schools. Each student’s value varies based on his or her grade level, educational needs and learning challenges.

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The district made changes to the model in light of the budget cuts, and originally planned on giving high schools less money for each student. But after the protests, the mayor announced high schools will now receive the same amount of money as last year.

Where is the money coming from?

In the original budget, Superintendent Tommy Chang proposed $11 million in long-term investments, some of which included further developing dual language programs and a pilot program for fourth graders that would expand access to more challenging coursework.

The city decided to reallocate $6 million from those long-term investments to the funding formula for high school students. That means $5 million in investments will remain. The new budget will keep the district’s investments in special education, as well as most of the investment in the K1 early education program, which serves children as young as 4. But instead of adding 300 seats to that program, the district will only add 200.

The rest of the long-term investments are contingent on money from the state. State law mandates that the district pay tuition to charter schools that enroll Boston public school students. The state is then supposed to reimburse the district for those costs, but has historically fallen short.

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This past year’s reimbursements covered less than half the cost, leaving the district with a deficit of $18.6 million.

Gov. Charlie Baker proposed a new system that would cut the number of years that districts can seek reimbursement from six to three. But the proposed fix would also double the amount districts receive in the second reimbursement year from 25 percent to 50 percent of the lost tuition. The proposal also seeks to ensure districts actually get paid so the underfunding doesn’t continue.

City officials said they are “optimistic’’ they will receive more money under this plan. If they do, the funds will be redirected back to Chang’s long-term investments.

“We had anticipated funding all of this, and are anticipating additional funding to this amount,’’ Chang said during Wednesday night’s school committee meeting. “If we get more, we need to look at how to restore funding to cuts that have been made, to surround care, or looking at special education students.’’

That means schools are still facing cuts. The revised budget includes many of the cuts Chang proposed last month, including a $10 million reduction from the transportation budget, which will come in the form of streamlined operations. The district will also cut $13.2 million from its central office’s school services, which are activities that take place at school level and are paid for by the central department. These include partnerships with outside organizations, such as City Year, educational programs during school vacation weeks, and the district’s early hiring program.

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The district originally proposed eliminating $1.6 million from the budgets of early learning centers, but reduced the figure to $850,000 in Wednesday’s budget. City officials said hours will remain the same at the schools, but there will be reductions in supports and services during the school day.

More than 80 people, many of them students, signed up to testify on the budget Wednesday evening. After briefly outlining the updates to the budget, Chang thanked them for coming.

“I’m moved by the power of the student voice here in Boston,’’ he said. “I really do appreciate the civic engagement of our young people, who will be the future of our city.’’

The school committee will vote on the budget March 23.

 

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