By Councilor Anissa Essaibi George
As the Boston City Council cast its final votes on the City of Boston budgets for fiscal 2017, I went in to the meeting ready to take a stand for the children of Boston, for the future of Boston, and for good government.
In the name of all three I voted “No” on the Boston Public Schools budget.
As a city councilor I knew I would have to make hard choices and during this budget process I was ready to be practical about spending limitations and reasonable about priorities. Throughout this time, unproductive power struggles got in the way of productive solutions.
A vote on the Boston Public Schools Budget shouldn’t be a way of measuring political success for any of us. It should be a way of equipping our kids for academic success in their classrooms.
As a former BPS teacher and parent of four BPS students, I know that parents don’t measure success by political wins over dollars spent on the system. We measure it by what our kids experience in the classroom.
In my role as vice chairwoman of the Committee on Education, I had advocated for several small investments that would deliver significant benefits for our kids on the first day of school.
For $600,000, we could have saved all the librarians that are being cut.
For $300,000, we could have put a reading specialist in each of the three schools that are losing their reading recovery program. For first-graders who are struggling to keep up with the class, having a reading recovery specialist can make the difference between success in school and a never-ending struggle.
And for $1.3 million, we could have avoided losing one out of every five of our school psychologists. There is no good reason for a city with our resources to take such crucial resources away from our children.
Last, we should not force our principals to make harder choices than ever with the adjusted student-weighted funding formula. That’s why we needed a soft landing for our schools with autism and emotional impairment strands. For $2.2 million, we could give all of those schools some sorely needed extra support.
Why were we not able to protect these services? Too often politics is was answer.
I was ready to roll up my sleeves and help figure out adjustments to make the school budget work better for our kids. But headline grabbing numbers – like calls for $31 or $38 million more dollars – got in the way.
I also voted “No” on the Parking Meter Fund, which allocated $15 million to repair the Northern Avenue Bridge. That money should have come from the capital budget leaving some of the $15 million available for relevant operating expenses in the Transportation Department and some for small, targeted investments in BPS.
There are aspects of the city’s overall budget I am very pleased with. I voted “Yes” on the operating and capital budgets.
As chairwoman of the Committee on Homelessness Mental Health and Recovery, I’m encouraged by the new money Department of Neighborhood Development is spending to help homeless individuals with housing and supportive services. I’m also grateful for the increased funding to Family Aid.
I’ll keep a strong spotlight on the problem of rising family homelessness and look forward to working with the new Office of Housing Stability to keep Boston’s families from losing their homes in the first place. I am also excited about the work that will focus on families with children in BPS.
We’re also making the largest ever allocation to our parks, from McConnell in my own Dorchester backyard, to Harambee in Mattapan/Dorchester, to Cassidy in Brighton. I spend a lot of time in those parks with my four boys, and I know how much they mean to people around the city.
I also heartily support investments in our public safety personnel and infrastructure, like the new East Boston police station, new fire trucks, and equipment. Firefighters, police and EMS teams do an incredible job, so I’m proud that we’re getting them more ambulances and personnel. They’re on the front lines ready to save lives every day.
My first six months as city councilor-at-large have been excited, gratifying and frustrating. We’ve accomplished good things and have much more to do. I’m ready for the next six.