Officials focus on saving jobs

Gatumba Abu is one of the lucky few.

A custodian at the Holland Elementary School in Dorchester, Abu had received a layoff notice three weeks earlier. “A lot of people overlook our jobs,” he said, standing near the entrance of the City Council’s chambers last week. “But we’re a big part of the school department.”

As he contemplated how he would pay his mortgage, city councillors and Menino administration officials worked to save his job and those of 14 others.

Finally, the City Council, by an 11-2 tally, with Charles Yancey and Chuck Turner voting no, approved Mayor Thomas Menino’s $2.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2011. One by one, the city councillors voted as several hundred members of the AFSCME union, which represents library workers, chanted outside of City Hall.

Under the budget passed last Wednesday, the jobs of 15 Boston Public School custodians appear to be safe, and that’s on top of the 42 that the Menino administration had sought to save after they submitted a revised budget last month. Ten librarian jobs have also been saved, according to the chair of the council’s budget committee, Councillor Mark Ciommo.

But within the city and across the state, both of which are still struggling with the deep recession and declining federal aid from Washington D.C., many more layoffs are expected among the ranks of police, firefighters, librarians, and teachers.

“This fall is going to be horrible in cities and towns and schools,” said Judy Meredith, a human services lobbyist who lives in Dorchester. “It’s going to be horrible for the facilities for the mentally ill. People are going to go without legal representation.”

“There’s not much waste to cut,” said state Rep. Marty Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat. “There’s not billions of dollars in waste.”

In his speech to colleagues that was also directed at the group of union members in the audience, City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo said he had pressed for more jobs to be saved, but added he would vote for the budget.

“I made the decision today to use my vote as a way to get more jobs,” as well as pass a proposal to expand the Boston Public Library’s board of trustees and give them fundraising powers, he told the Reporter after the vote.

“Our fighting, our advocating doesn’t end when this vote is taken,” said City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley. “The fight to save our libraries and library workers will continue, in many different forms, whether it’s ramping up fundraising efforts by the Board of Trustees and the BPL Foundation, a process begun today by the unanimous passage of the home rule petition sponsored by myself and Councilor [Michael] Ross and Arroyo, or coordinating with our partners in the State House to include funding in the next supplemental budget.”

At the state level, the news is grim for anti-violence programs. Lew Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, said $1.3 million was cut from youth jobs programs, likely costing Boston 400 youth jobs.

The Department of Public Health’s youth violence prevention program, which includes grants to groups like the Louis Brown Peace Institute and the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, was cut to $1.5 million from $2.5 million.

A popular anti-gang violence program dubbed the Shannon Grant was cut to $4.5 million from $6.5 million, according to Finfer. Those funds typically are funneled to the Boston Police Department and prevention and intervention programs of Youth Opportunities Boston, Dorchester Youth Collaborative, Dorchester House, Codman Square Health Center, Catholic Charities Teen Center at St. Peter’s, among others.

The cuts to the state’s $27.6 billion budget were prompted in part because of federal Medicaid funds that were expected but never came through. Twenty-nine states, including Massachusetts, had built their budgets around the funds.

But Washington lawmakers, with an eye on November elections, balked at more spending. They also face the need to fund extended unemployment benefits and a way out of the recession, which some economists say requires more spending.

“Maybe people have to learn the hard way,” Meredith said.

The state budget spends $809 million in remaining federal stimulus funds, one-time revenue that won’t be available next year.

Gov. Deval Patrick called the state budget “balanced, responsible and on time,” and said the state was in better economic shape than others, while acknowledging, “The pain is widespread.”

“We can see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel,” Patrick said during a budget-signing on Beacon Hill. Lawmakers say that light may not be seen until fiscal year 2013.

The governor is also pressing for funding for the health care of 24,000 legal immigrants. The money was cut out by the Legislature.

There were some bright spots in the budgets: Menino last month had resubmitted the fiscal 2011 budget with $300,000 saved through “administrative efficiencies” within the Boston Youth Fund that allowed for 200 additional summer jobs for teens, a top priority for the administration.

His budget, a 2.2 percent increase from the fiscal 2010 outlay, also includes $650,000 for branch library operations, delaying the closure of four libraries for roughly nine months. The Lower Mills branch is among them and was originally scheduled to be closed down later this summer. State lawmakers and some City Council members are still pressing to keep the libraries open.

But the budget also impacts the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, a city agency, pulling out of eight community centers of the forty-six across the city, and handing control of them to nonprofits and Boston Public Schools. Two of the community centers set for the pull-out include the Marshall Community Center in Dorchester and the Mattahunt Community Center in Mattapan.

City Councillor Yancey, who represents Dorchester and Mattapan, criticized the budget as placing an “unfair burden” on schools, community centers, and libraries.

“The most egregious thing we’re doing is telling the people who live around the Marshall Community Center that we are going to pull out the city staff… and pretend we responded to the young people there,” he said.

Along with the operating budget, the mayor also submitted and the city council approved a capital budget that includes funds for renovating several school libraries and media labs, playgrounds, courts in nine parks, a new branch library in East Boston, and resurfacing 21 miles of roadways. The revamping of four Dorchester Ave. intersections is ongoing and included in the capital budget.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.