In March 2008, the media reported that Boston Public School officials had to try to fix a $33.2 million gap in the 2008-2009 school year budget. Superintendent Carol Johnson said, “This is difficult, but we’ve done everything we can to protect things that we think are important to student achievement.” (Boston Globe, March 19)
Apparently, those things that are vital to student achievement do not include protective measures to keep teachers. It is clear that jobs and benefits for teachers are considered to be part of the problem. According to the Boston Globe, officials have claimed that the rising cost of employee benefits was partly responsible for the budget gap.
Toward the end of the 2007-2008 school year, the city “bailed out” the school district with $10 million to close the budget gap for the next year. Boston Public Schools then had to request $9.9 million more to finish out the 2007-2008 school year. Johnson explained that “higher-than-expected staffing costs” along with a decrease in federal funding contributed to the deficit. (Boston Globe, May 29)
The government can afford hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out the nation’s banks and corporations, but a “bailout” for a school district at an infinitesimal fraction of that amount sparks controversy. Despite this “rescue” from the city, a number of students and teachers are going to suffer due to planned school closures.
According to an Oct. 2 Boston Channel news report, several Boston schools are now “slated for closure.” Officials hope that the closures of five elementary schools—the majority of which are in the most oppressed and under-resourced communities in Boston—will save the city $13 million over five years. Johnson claims she will try to avoid teacher layoffs.
One can venture to guess that Johnson is highly unlikely to avert the layoffs. The school committee plans to vote on the school closure plan at the end of October.
Johnson said: “These are tough choices, but everyone recognizes we are living in challenging economic times. Boston is a city that exists in a highly competitive education market.” (Boston Globe, Oct. 1)
The idea that an “education market” should determine which schools continue to function, much like the capitalist market decides which businesses succeed or fail, is highly troubling.
Teachers and staff have undeservedly borne a great deal of the blame for the district’s financial troubles. Teachers and students stand to lose their schools through no fault of their own. Funds exist to keep classrooms open, but the financial well-being of teachers and staff and the future of young students do not figure into the priorities of government officials who make spending decisions, especially in times of crisis.
Funds must be made available to preserve teachers’ jobs and students’ access to education. Well-trained, well-remunerated teachers are the cornerstones of high-quality public education.