Students speak out on school budget cuts

March 20, 2009
By

DAMOLA CURTIS


Gazette Photo by Lori DeSantis Students from the John D. O’Bryant High School—(left to right) Maneuel Rios Alers, Dawlt Yosief, Fernando Lara, Nigel Henry Robinson, Jonathan Mordenz, Adam Zayek, Chris Soure, Justin Owumi and ike Iloputaife—were part of the crowd of young people who turned out for a special Boston Public Schools budget hearing for young peopple on March 8 at English High School.

About 100 students attended a hearing on March 5 at English High School on McBride Street about how budget cuts will affect the Boston Public Schools (BPS). BPS officials, parents and teachers also attended the unusual hearing—requested by several young people’s groups, including JP’s Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF).

At the hearing, many students objected to losing teachers and changing school zones. They also asked for more research about other funding resources to provide quality education.

BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson and school committee members Rev. Gregory Groover, Marchelle Raynor, Claudio Martinez, Michael O’Neill, Helen Dajer and Alfreda Harris had assurances and information for the students. Martinez is the executive director of HSTF, and Dajer is a JP resident.

Youth-led groups such as HSTF, Sociedad Latina, Boston Youth Organizing Project, Teen Empowerment and the Boston Student Advisory Council highlighted some facts about the budget cuts. Boston schools are currently struggling to cut $107 million to reach a budget of $786.9 million for next year. Proposed cuts include 372 teachers, school closings and transportation.

The government needs to give more money for education, William Poff-Webster, a junior at Boston Latin School and a Jamaica Plain resident, said. “We should hold our elected leaders accountable.”

Johnson described different ways the city is dealing with the budget gap, explaining that Mayor Thomas Menino met with President Barack Obama to tell him first-hand what is going on in Boston. She said Gov. Deval Patrick has asked to raise the tax on gas, a meals tax is in discussion and the city is continuing to work with the Boston Teacher’s Union on a wage freeze. “We’re trying to save most of the money so that we can save our teachers,” she said.

“The school committee is committed to seeing that the quality of education will not be adversely af-fected,” Groover said.

“Even though there is this big deficit, we are investing in AP [advanced placement] classes and reading initiatives,” said Moriah Smith, the student representative on the school committee.

Committee members encouraged the students, stressing steps they could take to affect the outcome of budget cuts.

“You have no idea how valuable your input is,” O’Neill said. “Keep talking. Get your parents engaged.”

Students had suggestions also.

“I’m trying to get people to write letters. I wrote a letter to Oprah,” said Mariel Jane Bastien, a sen-ior at Boston Latin Academy.
Groover suggested rallies, referring to an upcoming state-wide protest on Beacon Hill on March 24 called “Stand for Children.”

Samantha Brea, a sophomore at Snowden International High School and a student organizer for Hyde Square Task Force, said she has concerns about the future. “I feel you can see how it’s affecting us little by lit-tle,” Brea said. “Sometimes we don’t have paper, and we have to share.”

Brea wondered how things will be for younger generations. “My little brother is coming up, and I wouldn’t want him to get a lower quality education because of the money gap that we have,” she said.
Brea said having hearings like this makes change is possible. “Uniting together, we have a voice and we can make a change,” Brea said.

The Boston School Committee would like to create a student union, according to Smith.

There was also a call for students and school staff to be excused on March 24 so they can attend the rally at the State House. More information about upcoming rallies can be found at www.stand.org/ma and www.blsparents.org.

Lori DeSantis contributed to this article.