When Liz Gomes’s son Mason was diagnosed as autistic, the doctor told her that the best hope for him would be to secure a spot at the Joseph Lee K-8 on Talbot Avenue.
Mason is now 12 and more verbal than doctors ever expected him to be. Gomes attributes that to the instruction and support he receives at the Lee.
Gomes has become a vocal advocate for special education funding throughout the city budget process.
On March 17, she and a small group of other BPS parents and students rallied outside City Hall and ultimately were able to have an impromptu meeting with Mayor Walsh in the lobby of his office.
“Only a special needs parent can tell you what our lives are. If you come, I will personally walk you around and you will see,” Gomes told Walsh.
Walsh took Gomes up on her offer and visited the Lee School on March 31. Parents shared stories about the stresses of having a child with special needs and the pressure of having to fight for their child’s education.
The mayor listened and asked a few questions- he wanted to make the meeting about them.
At the end of his visit, Walsh toured the school and visited a few classrooms, including Mason’s.
“The Lee is a really incredible school,” Walsh told the Reporter.
The Walsh administration’s new budget includes the largest appropriation of funds for the public schools ever. Despite that, throughout the process, frustrated parents have asserted that the schools remain dramatically underfunded.
“There has been a lot of emotion,” Walsh acknowledged, adding that he expects the city and the BPS to be in a similar situation with potential budget cuts next year. “My priority is education, but we are going to be in this situation for a while.”
The city will spend $9 million more on special education in the upcoming school year than in the current year.
Due to the increasing cost of operation the budget for the Lee School is still short $253,000, according to BPS administrators. One staff position is expected to be cut, a BPS spokesperson said.
The budget relies on a significant decrease in the formula that the district uses to allocate funds to schools for each pupil. Superintendent Tommy Chang called this change a “last resort” when introducing an initial budget plan last January.
“These changes resulted in an approximately $5 million savings. However, BPS is investing an additional $3 million in initiatives related to special education, including $1 million for a data system that, among other tasks, enhances Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs); $1 million for special education support teams; and $1 million in transitional services,” said BPS spokesperson Dan O’Brien in an email.
To account for the loss in funding from the student formula, class sizes will be increased from nine students to ten students for every teacher. Even with the increase in class size, the BPS will remain under the state-mandated student-to-staff ratio for students with special needs.
Many parents have expressed their concerns that even one more student in a classroom will decrease individualized learning time for each student.
Editor’s note April 14: Due to incorrect numbers supplied to the Reporter before press, the print edition incorrectly stated that the Lee School would suffer four lay-offs. Only one teaching position is expected to be cut.