$3.49b city budget gets council okay; 3 members critique BPS spending plan

The mayor’s full $3.49 billion city budget made it through the city council last week despite sharp critiques on the public schools spending plan from three councillors who voted against adopting the BPS budget.

Andrea Campbell, Lydia Edwards, and Michelle Wu cited issues of equity, school cuts, and stability in the public school system in voting against its spending request.

Up about $50 million from last year – to a total of $1.18 billion – the school budget includes items like funding for a full-time nurse in every school, additional paraprofessionals and mental health professionals, free menstrual products for students, free MBTA passes for 7-12 grade students, and moves toward universal pre-K.

“The education budget is not a perfect budget, but these are investments that we cannot ignore and say no to,” said Councillor At-Large Annissa Essabi-George at the council’s meeting last week. “These are investments that will help improve the services and support the needs of our students. My vote today serves to recognize the importance of those investments, but also the work that still is needed to provide our kids with the education they deserve.”

She added that she is still disappointed by the lack of investments to renovate facilities at Madison Park High School.

Other councillors said their neighborhoods were facing unacceptable cuts.

Edwards noted a $2.6 million loss for District 1 schools, the most for any district, with $1.2 million of the cuts coming directly from East Boston High School.

“I’m sorry to say that this budget is not a response in any way shape or form from a BPS that is listening to District 1,” Edwards said in voting against it. She added: “If a budget is a reflection of the values of a government, then it's very clear that BPS does not value District 1… we are dealing with a displacement crisis and the weighted student formula does not account for displacement that the community is dealing with.”

Council President Andrea Campbell, who last week released a plan that calls for time-sensitive changes to BPS operations, cited concerns about equity in achievement, resources, and system-wide measurable improvements.

“I do not think we are demonstrating the values of equity, transparency, and accountability by merely adding money to our budget and celebrating that this is the highest BPS budget in the history of the City of Boston,” Campbell said, noting that she cast the sole vote against the school budget last year. 

New BPS Superintendent Brenda Casselius agrees that inefficiencies exist in the system, Campbell said, though she is working to figure out just what they are. 

“So whether it is a transportation budget that is just skyrocketing and going up with no end in sight” or “a central office with positions of four folks and I don't really know what they do and how they actually necessarily serve our schools,” Campbell said, she noted that Casselius is “thinking about making some changes in central office, making some cuts that can then redirect those dollars to our schools, to our teachers, of course, to our parents, and to our students.”

Wu was the third voice to speak against the BPS budget. As did her colleagues, she pointed out that Casselius was not involved in setting the current budget.

“My vote on the school budget is mostly around the need for actionable plans, for accountability, for stability,” Wu said. “And it is an expression of wanting to do my job and setting a baseline in welcoming the superintendent with huge arms and tremendous excitement ready for her leadership.”
All councillors voted in favor of passing the broader city budget.