City Councillors approved Mayor Marty Walsh’s proposed $2.98 billion city budget Wednesday, ending a contentious few months filled with protests and student walk-outs over public school funding.
The final budget gives $1.032 billion to the School Department for next year. The City Councillors voted 9-4 in favor of the school department’s allocation.
After City Council rejected the proposed budget earlier this month, Walsh announced that he would add nearly $5 million to the district’s budget. He outlined investments in Superintendent Tommy Chang’s “Excellence for All” program, which will offer a more challenging curriculum to fourth graders in 13 schools, as well as extended learning time for special student populations and a new transportation data system to better track ridership.
But that still left a proposed deficit of at least $22 million, which means there will be cuts in classrooms next year. The exact deficit is still unknown, because the allocation doesn’t account for likely salary increases being negotiated, or the uncertainty over state funding. Net state aid is projected to decrease by $3 million next year, according to figures presented by Boston’s chief financial officer David Sweeney at a committee hearing Monday.
Before the vote, City Councillor Tito Jackson, who chairs the committee on education, called the budget “reckless and irresponsible,” citing cuts in programs that support students with autism and trauma, and urged the councillors to reject it.
“We are co-signing on a budget that hurts our young people,” he said. “They stood up and gave a challenge to us and modeled a behavior we should do which is standing up for the things that we believe in. I believe it’s unconscionable to support a budget that will hurt BPS year after year.”
Annissa Essaibi George, a former Boston Public Schools teacher, agreed, and said the budget process was overshadowed by political egos.
“I’m frustrated to find myself here against the BPS budget because I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and figure out targeted adjustments that would work better for our kids,” she said. “Parents do not measure success by political wins. We measure by what our kids experience in the classroom. As a city councillor, I knew I would have to make hard choices. As a parent, former teacher and BPS parent, I have to vote against the budget.”
The majority of councillors voted in favor of the school district’s budget, but many expressed that they weren’t necessarily happy to do so. City Council President Michelle Wu called her favorable vote a “painful” decision.
“I believe it’s a fiscally responsible budget,” she said. “It’s the biggest budget in BPS history, but not the best. It’s up to the council and all of us and everyone who’s been involved, no matter what happens today to keep holding the administration’s feet to the fire.”
The district issued the following statement in regards to the vote.
“Boston Public Schools is thankful for the City Council’s thoughtful analysis and discussion while deliberating the fiscal 2017 budget,” the statement said. “As with every budget process, BPS appreciates engaging in respectful and collaborative public dialogue.”
After months of advocating for full funding, Kristin Johnson, a member of the Boston Citywide Parent Council, said she was frustrated with the results.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” she said. “Only four councillors were willing to stand up for BPS, and I think it shows that a lot of the councillors may be out of touch with what its like to be a BPS teacher or parent.”
The news came also came as a blow to Brian Foster, a recent Boston Public Schools graduate who helped organize the massive district-wide walk out in March. Although he said the vote angered him, he recognized that Boston Public Schools funding also comes from the state, which is why he said there needs to be even more advocacy to fully fund education.
“Our job, as the youth, is to put pressure on the mayor to find that money,” he said. “We won’t let him sit back and relax, pretending like everything is OK now that the budget is passed. Maybe for him it’s fine, but not for us. If the mayor is for saving education, we’ll work with him and his team to put pressure on the legislatures.”