When Blackstone School parent Alexandra Olivero thinks about what next year will bring if a $500,000 budget shortfall transpires at the South End elementary school – only one word comes to mind.
“Chaos,” she said on Monday, amidst volunteering at the school for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action. “It really will be chaos. We need more help here and we’re going to get less help because of money. That’s not fair for the students. It’s really going to affect the students because they need more benefits and, as it is now, they are going to lose what they have.”
The Blackstone School heard in December that there could be some cuts in funding at the school – which houses some of the neediest children in the city in regard to English Language Learners (ELL) and special education students. It was only this month that the details of those potential budget cuts became available.
The problem lies in that the Blackstone is transitioning from an innovation school model – with lower teacher salaries – to a regular Schedule A school with average teacher salaries. The coming budget year will be the first time that change is reflected in the dollars coming to the school. The difference in funding the two school models comes to around $500,000.
The proposed result is to cut personnel, such as family coordinators, social workers, counselors and even the swimming instructor.
The Boston Public Schools did not have any specific comment on the matter.
Ariel Branz of St. Stephens Youth Programs in the South End said her organization and parents have been mobilizing to raise awareness of the proposed cut. She said that at first, parents were pitted against one another, but soon decided to work together.
“The cuts brought about tension at first between the ELL and Special Education parents,” she said. “They were competing with each other to avoid the cuts. Then the teachers and parents realized they couldn’t be fighting with each other. They realized they needed to work together and fight for everyone. That was the moment that they decided to begin to speak out publicly.”
The public campaign began on Jan. 15 when they held a public meeting that was attended by about 70 parents, teachers and community partners. It also led to a letter from the Blackstone School Site Council.
“The plan for FY20 finally provides adequate funding for the ELLs, but at the expense of Special Education students,” read the letter. “Two inclusion strand coordinators, and potentially one or two inclusion classrooms would be cut. We should not have to choose between our ELLs and Special Education students. Both program must be fully resourced.”
On Monday, both State Rep. Jon Santiago and Councilor Ed Flynn committed to working with parents to investigate and try to head off the cut before it becomes permanent in March.
“I want to work with you about what is going on right now at the Blackstone,” said Santiago. “I get it. I was a poor Latino kid growing up in public schools that needed help.”
Flynn said he was disappointed with the decision.
“What this really affects is students of color, disabled students and students without a voice in government,” he said. “That’s the job of the Boston Public Schools is to be a voice for these children that don’t have a voice. I’m disappointed in the public schools to propose cutting $500,000. I’m going to work closely with Rep. Santiago and try to get this funding back.”
For parent Iris Diaz, the proposed cuts mean her son – who is a special education student – could be held back in his development. It’s a scary reality, but it has given her reason to fight the decision. “I’m definitely going to fight this,” she said. “With the decision to cut more IEP services, that’s going to effect the children’s’ development. For my kid, who has a speech delay, if we don’t have adequate personnel, it’s obviously going to affect him.”