Boston parents to demonstrate as school budget cuts loom

Writing letters to school and state officials, turning out at School Committee meetings, and starting a Facebook page to advocate for additional funding, parents across Boston are mobilizing to protest possible budget cuts at their schools for the next academic year.

Classroom aides and other positions, supplies and materials, and funding for specialized programs such as Playworks, which provides organized games and activities at recess as a supplement to physical education, are all included in the possible cuts, which vary from school to school. The Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain, which may have to reduce spending by $550,000, could be one of the hardest-hit schools. Including a music teacher, a bilingual parent coordinator, and community field coordinators who deal with discipline the plan calls for cutting 14 positions.

"It's going to be catastrophic, and not just at the Curley," said Heshan Berents-Weeramuni, cochairman of the school site council at the Curley.

Dozens of parents are planning to turn out at Wednesday night's School Committee meeting, when interim Superintendent John McDonough is scheduled to officially unveil his budget proposal for the next school year, which is expected to be $973 million. Costs to maintain programs are rising at a faster clip, while state and federal aid is dropping by millions despite that spending plan representing a nearly 4% increase over this year's budget. Another complication is also grappling the school system. At many schools, enrollment for this school year was over-projected, meaning many of them will receive less per-student funding for next year. As James Vaznis of The Boston Globe reports, other city departments, such as fire and police, are worse off, having to cut spending by 1% next year.

"We are trying as hard as possible to protect teaching and learning," said Brian Ballou, a School Department spokesman. He noted that more than half of the city's schools will actually have higher budgets next school year.

Seeing the spending proposal, which the board will consider over the next month and a half, is what Michael O'Neill, chairman of the School Committee, is looking forward to.

"I understand parents' concerns," O'Neill said in an interview. "I'm really sensitive to that and the impact on individual schools and programs."

However, it is yet to be known how education initiatives Mayor Martin J. Walsh pushed on the campaign trail last fall, such as guaranteeing kindergarten seats for all 4-year-olds, would be affected by the tight budget. In December, many schools were issued with a warning by the school system that they could face budget cuts. The affected schools have been identifying potential cuts and in many cases consulting parents about them since then.

For instance, according to the president of Neighborhood Parents for the Hurley School, Megan Hastings, parents at the Hurley K-8 School in the South End learned last week that the school might have to slash $200,000 in funding. Nonetheless, the school is now on the verge of losing two positions and funding for supplies and materials and a software program that teachers use to analyze student test scores and other data to help them adjust their instructional techniques.

"It's not like we are cutting art or music programs; those are things already paid for by parents," Hastings said. "It's already a lean budget. You can't get leaner."

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