The Boston Public Schools (BPS) submitted its budget proposal to the School Committee Wednesday night, and it was a budget that included a $36 million increase in funding over last year in what is the second year of a $100 million commitment made by Mayor Martin Walsh in January 2020.
The budget submission is being titled ‘Return, Recover and Re-Imagine,’ and focuses heavily on health and wellness and the resources that are believed to be necessary once children return to school next fall with the weight of COVID-19 still lingering even if the pandemic is over.
The overall budget is $1.29 billion and is the largest appropriation for the schools ever made in the history of BPS.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly exposed inequities that persisted for our students for far too long, and this recovery budget is centered on student services and supports to immediately address concerns and promote an equitable recovery,” said BPS Superintendent, Brenda Cassellius. “This student-centered and community-focused recovery budget proposal builds upon our investments made last year in student and family advancement, at a time when our community is most in need. As we move forward and recover from the pandemic, we remain committed to a safe return, opening access and closing achievement gaps, and ensuring an excellent and equitable education for all students, particularly our students most impacted this past year.”
CFO Nate Kuder said it is unprecedented for a major school district to be expanding its budget in the times of COVID-19. He said Boston is really fortunate that the City has continued its commitment of $36 million in the second year when financial times are so uncertain.
“Boston stands alone in increasing financial investments into schools,” he said.
One of the key measures is per pupil expenditures. This year, he said, that has gone up by $1,700 per student to $23,500 per student.
One of the biggest worries has been the trauma and educational setbacks that students and their families might bring with them when they return to school buildings for the first time in a year. That is why Cassellius said they hired 95 new full-time social workers for the schools, and 80.5 new full-time multi-lingual family liaisons. Already, last year, in the first year of the five-year transformation plan, several social workers and liaisons were hired as well, and Cassellius said their work has been critical to families and students over the pandemic.
One major funding piece that still falls into uncertain waters is how to deal with declining enrollments due to the pandemic. Typically, schools are funded by the numbers of students they have enrolled. However, during COVID-19, enrollments have plummeted in BPS. No one is quite sure why, and no one knows if it will continue. However, Kuder said they would be investing $18.5 million into schools with declining enrollment to make sure they are not penalized for the situation.
“The drop in enrollment is real and significant,” he said. “We don’t know what the future will hold for enrollment. But we want students to return to school with the same programs and specials like music and art – and with social workers and liaisons…We don’t know where it will be at next year. We don’t as a district want to close capacity for some facilities and then a lot of new families show up and we have to open capacity and quickly re-hire teachers.”
Instead, they will invest that $18.5 million in making up for any enrollment declines that persist into next fall.
Cassellius did confirm that there would be no new school closures next year that aren’t already planned.
Facilities also have a big part of the budget too, and an investment last year in custodial staff has continued this year – but this time it is more important than ever due to the needs of COVID-19 and keeping buildings safe. With that, an additional $1.417 million has been invested in adding more daytime custodians to the district’s school facilities.
There will be additional budget hearings for the community to participate in over the coming month. On Thursday, Feb. 11, there will be another budget hearing online; and it will be discussed again at the Feb. 24 School Committee meeting also. The School Committee Budget vote is expected on March 24.