BPS eyes JP school closure and move

Citing budget woes, Boston Public Schools (BPS) is calling for closure of the Community Academy at 25 Glen Road at the end of the school year.

Another possible change: the Margarita Muñiz Academy at 20 Child St. may be relocated to the building currently occupied by the Rogers Middle School in Hyde Park in the near future.

The Boston School Committee will make a final decision on the  proposal on March 25. Public budget hearings were scheduled for this week on March 9 and 11.

It is yet unclear whether the Community Academy program would move to a new location, or whether the whole program will be dismantled and the students redistributed to other schools. That school is a small, alternative public high school that serves students who have struggled in traditional classrooms.

“We’re in a tough spot right now,” Interim BPS Superintendent John McDonough told the Gazette last week.

McDonough is serving as interim superintendent through the 2014-15 school year, after which newly selected Superintendent Tommy Chang will take over.

During a roundtable discussion with one other reporter on March 5, McDonough confirmed the news released late last month that Community Academy is one of five schools up for closure. It would be the second school in JP to close in the last few years: the Agassiz School, the previous occupant of the building at 20 Child St., closed at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

If the School Committee accepts the closures, the Muñiz Academy has been suggested to move into the Rogers building in Hyde Park in a year’s time, to allow that school to accept more pupils. The Mission Hill K-8, which currently shares the Child Street building with the Muñiz Academy, would then take over the entire facility.

McDonough said that the proposed move is still in its early stages, but that he has been in touch with the Muñiz community.

When the Gazette asked for clarification on whether that means just the faculty or both faculty and parents, BPS spokesperson Denise Snyder said, “I’m not sure who all that includes, but I’d also say that its the beginning of a conversation. Our first priority is to support families potentially impacted by recommended closures.”

According to a press release, BPS used a set of criteria that included enrollment trends, school choice data and academic performance to develop the recommended list of school closures. The district also considered the financial sustainability of Community Academy and Middle School Academy, which offer alternative education options to students who are referred to the programs, emphasizing that BPS’ commitment to the quality and intensity of support for students will not waiver.

According to McDonough, Community Academy spends, on average, $34,000 to $37,000 per pupil per year. Across BPS, the average student costs $17,000 per year to educate.

The Gazette was unable to reach Community Academy Headmaster Harold Miller for comment.

The challenge, McDonough said at that roundtable, is the structural imbalance that exists in the current school funding system: the projected growth in running BPS is greater than the projected income to maintain current levels of service.

He said that means that, until the system is changed, budget shortfalls will continue to be the norm. That it turn will mean more measures—like school closures and cuts—will be needed to close the gap.

A factor that exacerbates the problem is BPS’s preference for smaller schools, McDonough said.

“We have very small school buildings. We, as a city, like smallness,” he said.

A similarly-sized school district elsewhere in the nation, according to BPS research, might have 72 schools. BPS has 128 schools, which drives up costs. Consolidating students in fewer buildings would lower per-student cost.

McDonough said that the “magic number” of exactly how many facilities are actually needed has not yet been figured out.

Compounding the problem is the fact that BPS has a large number of under-enrolled classrooms, McDonough explained.

For a class to get enough funding from the state and the city to pay for the teacher leading it, it must usually be 87 percent full.

That translates to: a kindergarten class with a maximum size of 22 students would need 19 students in class to pay for their teacher. A high school class would need 26 or 27 out of a maximum 31 students to meet the same goal.

According to McDonough, close to half of the classrooms in the district are 50 percent full or less.

“Until we are able to identify permanent solutions, we will continue to spend and support our students in a way that is more costly” than necessary, McDonough said. “We’re spreading [our resources] too thin.”

The proposed closures would save BPS $2.2 million, despite the fact their combined operating budget is over $9 million.

“We’re taking those $7 million to reinvest elsewhere,” McDonough said.

The Community Academy building will continue to be in public use, he said. First, BPS will try and find a new purpose for it, much like the old Agassiz building. But McDonough admitted that the building’s future is unclear.

BPS announced at its Feb. 4 budget meeting that it was facing a $42 million to $51 million budget gap next year.

Community Academy at 25 Glen Road last week. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

Community Academy at 25 Glen Road last week. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

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