By Erica Morrison
BOSTON — After weeks of protests and public hearings, the Boston School Committee voted 5-2 on Wednesday to pass a controversial budget proposal of just over $1 billion from Superintendent Tommy Chang for the 2017 fiscal year.
Walsh’s move raised concerns about the ripple effect it would have on early childhood learning and special education students.
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang had warned in January that the budget could fall short by as much as $50 million. Before the committee’s vote, Chang used his usual speaking time to praise education officials for making “target investments” in a difficult fiscal year, including adding 200 pre-K seats for next year.
He added that additional funding would be allocated to special education services, with “investments in special education including $1 million for special education support teams, $1 million for transition services, [and] $1 million to fund a special education data system.”
Still, parents, students and educators criticized the proposal because, despite these investments, special education spending faces a $5 million cut. Per-pupil spending on children diagnosed with autism, for example, would drop by about $2,000. Other areas facing significant cuts include transportation and central office staff, according to a letter Chang gave the committee in support of his proposed budget.
“I know the school committee had a very difficult decision to make. We were provided an appropriation of $1.027 billion,” Chang said after the vote. “Difficult decisions were made, but I’m confident our team made the right decision to make sure this budget is equitable.”
The committee heard about two hours of tearful pleas from students, parents and community members discouraged by the proposed cuts.
Maria Farrell, a mother of six and Citywide Parent Council representative from the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics & Science, said cuts affect all students.
“It saddens me as a parent that we’re in this position every year” fighting budget cuts, Farrell said. “I have to have faith and hope that the people we put our faith and hope in are going to do better for us moving forward.”
The Boston City Council must still vote on the school budget later this spring.
“I am going to remain hopeful that there will be some magic money from the sky that comes and helps the students that need it,” Farrell said. “And if not, I have all the confidence that we have amazing parents that will raise the money to make it happen.”