Councillors hear more concerns on high school budget cuts

City councillors Tito Jackson and Annissa Essaibi-George (center, top) listened as parents, students and educators discussed proposed budget cuts to Boston high schools. Maddie Kilgannon photo

Parents, students, and educators gathered at Dorchester’s Kroc Center on Wednesday evening to discuss the proposed Boston Public School budget for the upcoming year, which include across-the-board cuts to the city's high schools. Boston City Councillors Tito Jackson and Annissa Essaibi-George, who co-chair the Committee on Education, have scheduled ten Town Hall meetings by council district. The first was held last week at Boston Latin School.

About 25 people attended Wednesday’s session, which was billed as a meeting for residents of District 7, which includes parts of Dorchester and Roxbury.

The two councillors began the meeting by stressing that their purpose was to hear directly from the community and less to share their own thoughts.

One of the parents who spoke was Kerry Fletcher, who has two daughters at Boston Latin Academy, which is expected to see a $500,000 cut to its budget. Fletcher shared that the school’s administration has plans to lose both the Arabic program and one math teacher who teaches both 7th and 8th grade. The budget cuts add up to the loss of five full-time positions from the school, she said. No money is budgeted for school supplies next year, she said, leaving that burden to fall on individuals.

Troy Henniger, who was appointed Headmaster of Latin Academy in 2015, is also serving as head of the History department. The school also does not currently have a head of the Arts department.

“Without a department head,” she said, “there is no one to structure the programs.”

Brenda Chaney, who recently retired from teaching at the O’Bryant School of Math and Science, said that budget cuts there will result in six faculty positions being cut from the school. Two science teachers are retiring this year, and at this time the administration does not plan on hiring replacements.

It was stressed time and time again that schools were not just losing beloved teachers and essential programs, but they were also losing their identities as a direct result of the steep cuts.

Snowden International will lose their Japanese language program, the O’Bryant will lose some science classes, and Boston Community Leadership Academy will be losing its leadership curriculum.
Schools, across the board, are being stripped down to the bones.

Frustration was also expressed at the disparity in funding between charter and public schools.
Paula Bulls, a teacher at Brighton High School, said that in the last month her school received five new students from charter schools.

“The timing is not surprising,” she said. “It’s right on time for testing season.”

Last year between January and June Brighton High received roughly fifty students who had left charter schools, Bulls claimed.

Students from Charlestown High School’s Diploma Plus program were also on hand at this meeting. Diploma Plus focuses on under-accredited students older than 16. It provides an alternative to dropping out of school completely by creating a curriculum that goes at each individual student’s own pace.

There are currently about fifty students in the program at Charlestown. The program is slated to be cut next year to account for an anticipated $600,000 slash to the high school’s budget. The program costs $500,000 to run.

Councillor Jackson, towards the end of the meeting said noted that prisoners at South Bay House of Corrections cost $50,000 per person to house annually.

“The BPS students get $18,900,” said Jackson.

“Your condition is not your conclusion,” he continued, adding: “I hope that I am speaking directly to the budget on that one.”

Future town hall meetings on the subject are set for Thurs., March 10 at the Mattapan branch of the BPL, 1350 Blue Hill Ave. at 6 p.m.; and Mon., March 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Adams Street BPL, 690 Adams St.