By Josie Grove
Special to the Gazette
Several hundred outraged students, parents, and teachers packed the English High School auditorium on March 7 to give their feedback to the Boston School Committee about the budget for the 2017 fiscal year.
The budget, the first under new Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Tommy Chang, proposes cuts that are deeply unpopular with students, parents, and teachers.
Earlier in the day, over 2,000 Boston Public Schools students walked out of classes and marched to the State House to protest the cuts. The demonstration continued outside the English High School, with over one hundred people holding signs and chanting “S-O-S! Save our schools!” before the start of the meeting.
Student Jamaleek Bush explained, “If they’re not going to advocate for our schools, we will.”
Despite the City increasing the BPS appropriation by $13.5 million, the district is facing a nearly $50 million budget shortfall, according to Chang. Federal and state contributions are decreasing, and expenditures—for maintenance, capital expenses, salaries and benefits, increasing costs—are rising, according to Chang. Further complicating the issue are charter schools: state funding follow students enrolled in charter schools, at the detriment of the district schools.
Chang has said that the district will not close schools this year, but explained in a January letter, “As a result, the entire district is forced to make difficult choices.”
To students at the English High School on Monday, the “difficult choices” are more specific. Programs like Advanced Placement courses, SAT preparation, foreign languages, and extracurricular activities are all at risk. For some students, these add up to the ability to compete with more privileged children for admission to elite colleges, and the chance for social mobility.
Vanessa Deville, a seventh-grader at John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science, explained that her sister got into college thanks to sports, AP classes, and extracurricular activities.
“Somehow, she made it. The question is—will I make it?” Deville asked.
Jalen Powell-Bartley, another O’Bryant student, charted a path for upward mobility for a Boston Public Schools student: dreams of going to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working at General Electric, and living in the new Millennium Tower. But, he said, that path is deteriorating. Addressing Chang, he asked, “How can we do that when you’re about to strip the schools of their ability to innovate?”
Other students, like eight-grader Aliya Colon, have more immediate concerns. Colon said she does not feel safe walking to her after-school program, and advocated for all students to have transit passes.
“You want a little change? Give us a safer way to get home,” she said.
There will be another public hearing on March 16 before the School Committee votes to accept or reject the budget on March 23.
Student Falliane Forgs made her opposition on the budget very clear. “If I have to walk out of class again, I will,” she said.