Sixteen months ago, BPS embarked on a study to identify what areas of the “increasing” school budget it said were unsustainable and what type of remedies might be required. As union president I was invited to be a part of the process, but I quickly realized that the process, both in the identification of the problem areas as well as in the areas of proposed solutions, was a done deal or a stacked deck — either description will suffice — and I dropped off the committee though my name remains. The report has been out and the school district is asking people to weigh in with comments. The hearing process runs from February 1 through March. Here’s a sampling of the district’s identified problems. You can read the entire report. After reading for yourself, you may wish to make a comment.
The following is excerpted verbatim from the summary provided by BPS:
One significant problem from the BPS’s point of view: BTU employees are overpaid
“BPS pays employees ~20% more than surrounding districts. BPS proudly pays its teachers more than most other districts, both regionally and nationally. BPS teachers earn an average of $16,000 more a year than other districts around Boston. The average BPS teacher also earns more in a lifetime than their counterparts in any of the largest 112 districts nationally. And a recent initiative to extend the school day means (a) 5% increase in salaries for teachers who work the longer school day.”
The solution proposed by BPS:
“While teacher salaries across the country have declined, or remained flat in real terms over the last few years, teacher salaries in Boston have increased (teachers made an average of $91K in fiscal year 2017). Today, the average teacher in Boston makes more than national or neighboring districts. The district, in partnership with the Boston Teachers Union, could make adjustments both to the rate of growth of the wage schedule and to the terms of implementing extended learning time. If the next contract were similar to the terms of the current contract, we would expect annual costs to increase ~$50M within three years.”
Another significant problem from the BPS’s point of view: Too many schools and classrooms filled to less-than-capacity
“BPS has more schools, classrooms, and programs than similarly sized comparison districts This results in higher costs across a number of areas: facilities, transportation, and teaching and administrative staff. This footprint is driven by a large number of small schools, by the 20+ grade configuration across BPS, and by SPED and ELL programs that are not always filled to capacity. Relative to comparison districts, BPS’ schools are ~140 students smaller at the elementary level and ~220 smaller at the secondary level.”
The solution, according to the BPS: Close schools, consolidate classrooms:
“Running underutilized schools across a variety of grade configurations is costly; add in a plethora of programming and city-wide enrollment patterns and it creates a system with classrooms that are not full. BPS can concentrate resources to offer richer programming at fewer sites by making adjustments to: 1) the number of total schools, 2) the number of locations at which certain programs are offered, and 3) the methodology used for student assignment and enrollment projections, which link closely to the coherence of grade configurations across schools. For all of these changes to occur, decisions must be made based on reliable, accurate data that reflects school capacity, student demand, and assessments of equity by neighborhood.”
A third significant problem, according to BPS: Too many SPCs (unassigned permanent teachers):
“Three years ago, BPS implemented an early hiring initiative aimed at giving school leaders greater ability to choose the staff employed in their classrooms through mutual consent hiring. While the program has had many successes, it remains expensive because, based on state law, teachers who do not secure a position are still owed a salary, costing the district ~ $10-15M annually. If the Massachusetts Legislature were to amend this law, the savings would be significant.”
The solution, according to the BPS: Change the tenure law so SPCs can be terminated.