City looking to revamp funding formula for schools

Boston School Department officials are phasing in over the next two years a new formula aimed at streamlining how they calculate and funnel funds to the city’s 120 elementary, middle, and high schools.

“It’s not based on what you got last year, it’s based on the students you have,” Superintendent Carol Johnson said at a roundtable interview with ethnic media and community reporters last Friday. “We want to make sure that the budget we use is really student-focused and that we really do focus on children and their particular needs.”

The move comes as the department is closing ten schools and merging six others in a bid to save $10.6 million and deal with 5,600 empty seats. Facing a $63 million budget gap, Johnson last week submitted to the School Committee an $829.5 million budget, an $8.1 million increase from the current fiscal year that the city is covering.

In other matters, officials are looking to streamline transportation costs, and the system is depending on receiving $10.1 million in federal funds from an education jobs bill passed last year.

Before the committee votes on her proposal, presumably on March 23, department officials will hold four hearings on the budget. One is set for Dorchester’s Burke High School at 6 p.m. on March 15. The others are on March 2 at English High School; March 3 at Irving Middle School in Roslindale; and March 22 at East Boston High School.

The current funding formula is based on the number of programs, as well as teachers and staff. The new formula, which Johnson said would lead to “greater equality” across the school system, will be phased in over two years, because of some “hardships” that it could create for some schools. The formula is already used by the city’s public charter schools and in New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
The proposed formula, referred to as “weighted student funding,” is still being refined, since several principals pointed out some errors, Johnson said.

Officials provided a preliminary breakdown for school allocations and average per pupil costs for the coming fiscal year, but could not provide this fiscal year’s figures for comparative purposes before the Reporter went to press this week.

Out of 56,534 students who are expected to be enrolled in Boston Public Schools in fiscal year 2012, the average per pupil amount comes to $7,374, but varies widely depending on the school.

Every school will receive $200,000 to cover the costs of a principal or headmaster and office staff. On top of that, schools will be given a certain amount for each student, with more money coming if the school has more students from low-income families; students who are not fluent in English, also known as English Language Learners; special education students; and students who are not graduating on time.