BPS eyes $1.09b budget, up 4.4 percent; drops in state aid, charter funding cited

If the Boston Public Schools have their way, their Fiscal Year 2019 budget will total $1.09 billion, up 4.4 percent in overall funding from last year. Last week, in a memo to school officials announcing the budget, Superintendent Tommy Chang said the increased funding comes despite declining state aid and insufficient reimbursements for charter schools.

“While Mayor Walsh has increased BPS’s annual budget by $170 million since taking office, the state’s Chapter 70 funding has only increased by $8 million,” Chang wrote. “The Commonwealth also continues to underfund charter school reimbursements for cities and towns, which under the Governor’s proposed budget translates into $27 million in lost funding in Boston in FY19 alone and more than $100 million over the last five years.”

Annissa Essaibi-George, who chairs the City Council’s Education Committee, said Tuesday night that the overall budget number should be able to serve the school district, but large chunks of funding are also funneled toward expensive areas like transportation, which is in line for a 3 percent jump this year to $119.1 million.

“We see an additional investment over last year, and that’s great, I want applaud that,” she said. “I still think what we have for a budget now should be enough for the work that we’re doing. … What I want to see, especially with the Boston Public Schools is where we are with our actuals for our spending in fiscal years ’16, ’17, and where we are along this current year, if we are on target for sending, if we’re going realize any savings.”

The city budget plan should be in hand in the next six weeks or so, she said, and she hopes to have more clarity as the process continues.

Some members of the school community continue to argue against the school district’s weighted student funding system. They have told the School Committee that proposed cuts would worsen several years of funding reduction in some of the district’s more vulnerable schools.

Although most schools will see small gains in the 2019 budget, 15 will see cuts. Decisions are determined by the weighted student formula, which allocates funding based on enrollment. If students leave a school, their money follows them to their new schools. The schools they left end up with drops in enrollments, which translates into substantial funding cuts.

Dorchester Academy, an alternative high school that has struggled, will experience the highest loss in funding year-over-year.

With enrollment projections down about 66.7 percent, the academy is in line for a $1.43 million decrease in its allotment.

BPS officials say the weighted student formula results in a fairer disbursement of funding. Schools receive their allocations based on a proportional student need rather than as a response to school-by-school advocacy.

For its part, the Mattapan elementary school, formerly the Mattahunt, is in line for a 41 percent boost in funding after a 29.5 percent jump in enrollment.

Critics of the formula, like Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang, say it is inherently problematic. It “increases a lot of instability in schools that already badly need it,” she said. “Everybody is already overworked and overwhelmed.”

As schools struggle — like Level 4 turnaround school Brighton High, slated to lose $790,000. — fewer parents are inclined to enroll their children. This decreases funding for the school, which worsens without the needed resources, and makes another generation of students less likely to enroll. Tang calls it a “vicious cycle.”

The consideration schools losing funding then need to make is where to allocate their allocation, and when a budget is stretched, than can mean deciding between a school psychologist, nurse, or librarian.

Tang, acknowledging that BPS is dealing with historic issues of underfunding on the state level, believes the weighted funding formula should be supplemental rather than a baseline.

“It doesn’t take into account what all students need in terms of minimal staffing at a school, “ she said. “If every student at every school deserves a full time nurse, special education program, music, physical education, then really we need to be thinking about what that costs at minimum for any school?”