Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The BPS Budget and Boston's Mayor Walsh’s Campaign of Misinformation

For the last five months, since January, Mayor Walsh and his office have been making and repeating incredibly inaccurate and misleading statements to the media concerning Boston Public School’s FY17 budget. As a parent of a BPS student that’s advocating for adequate funding for our public schools, I’m astounded by the half truths and completely false information being put forth by the Mayor and his office.

The statements seem to be designed to justify the Mayor’s funding increase to BPS, an increase that falls around $30 million short of providing BPS with the resources necessary to provide the same level of service to students that it provided this year. The $30 million shortfall is compounded by the fact that it’s the third shortfall in three years. Every year that Mayor Walsh has been in office, BPS schools have had to make major cuts in what they’re able to provide for our children. (When I (we) say “cuts”, this is what we're talking about)

The first misleading statement the Mayor makes is that BPS will be receiving “an additional $13.5 million dollars". While that’s true, the problem is that everyone, the press included, is failing to ask what that really means? Is that a lot? It sounds like a lot. It’s not. It’s an increase of 1.35%. Mayor Walsh’s proposed municipal Boston budget for next year has an overall increase of 4%. If every city department’s budget were to go up equally, BPS was shorted by $27 million dollars. In other words, if BPS were given the same 4% increase the overall city budget received, BPS would be receiving a $40.5 million increase, not the Mayors $13.5 million. The Mayor's implication that he's being generous to BPS 

The Mayor also likes to state that “the BPS budget has gone up nearly $90 million dollars since he took office”. Well, okay, the thing is that's a perfectly normal average of 2.9% per budget. The Mayor is not only not being generous, he's actually underfunding the schools, habitually, year after year.

The second constantly repeated Mayor Walsh statement: “BPS has 93,000 seats for 57,000 students”. The 93,000 seats number comes from the “McKinsey Report”, a $660,000 report that the Mayor commissioned and allowed BPS the privilege of paying for. The McKinsey report has been questioned, challenged, quashed, and discredited a number of times, in a number of ways, by a number of people, including the chair of the Boston School Committee (publicly) and the Mayor’s own Chief of Economic Development (privately).

In 2013 BPS produced it’s own capacity report and it stated that BPS was at 92% capacity and had 5000 empty seats, not the 35,000 seats the McKinsey Report claims. I would think that the huge variance between these two reports would have even Mayor Walsh questioning McKinsey, especially when it appears that McKinsey simply calculated the square footage of schools, including hallways and gymnasiums, and did some sort of “students per square foot” thing that never looked at the actual classroom space, or the number of SPED (special education) students per teacher/classroom, and they did that for 126 schools. An additional note: according to the Mayor's own “Boston 2030” plans, Boston’s population is projected to grow by 91,000 in the next 13 years. Chances are that in a few years BPS will need more capacity, not less. Regardless, the statement that BPS has the capacity to serve 93,000 students would appear to be 
but that hasn't stopped the mayor from repeating, it over and over again.

Third and Fourth: On April 13th, Boston’s CFO David Sweeney was on Radio Boston talking about the BPS budget. Within the first two minutes, Mr Sweeney made one misleading statement, and one completely false statement.

  • First: “Over time, as a portion of the cities overall spending, education has increased now to a full 40%”. That's true, but we're not talking about what the city is spending on “education”, we're talking about the BPS budget, which in the mayors proposed budget comes out to 34.6% of the cities overall spending. Boston’s CFO's misleading implication was off by 5.4%, or $160.4 million (which Boston must be paying out to privately operated Commonwealth Charter Schools, which are overseen by the state but Boston gets to pay for)

  • Second statement, referring how much money is being spent per BPS student: “They're provided with the highest per-pupil appropriation in the country”. Um, sorry, but that’s completely inaccurate. Look out your window. See Cambridge? Those students receive about $7,000 more - per student - than Boston’s students do, and that’s just the beginning of a long list of Massachusetts cities and towns that fund at higher levels than Boston. Many, enrolling students with much lower needs than Boston’s. Why do these cities and towns spend that much? Because they value education. Sweeney's statements... 

Fifth: “The BPS budget is over one billion dollars!”
(and... “The BPS budget is of 35% Boston’s municipal budget!”)

Yes, the BPS budget is over one billion dollars, but what does that mean? As large as that number is, it’s a number that’s without context. It has no meaning. A true assessment of the FY17 BPS budget is its percent of Boston’s total budget, of which BPS is taking 34.6%. Again, 34.6% sounds like an awful lot when it’s just thrown out there, but when you take a look at what percentage of budgets other Massachusetts cities and towns spend on education, 34.6% (even 40%) is at the bottom of the heap. Using 2011 numbers provided in a Pioneer Institute report (the only source I can find that breaks 348 Massachusetts municipal budgets down into percentages) 94.5% of municipalities spent a larger portion of their budget on K-12 education than Boston will on BPS next year. In 2011 the average municipality in Massachusetts spent 52% of their budget on education, and in 2011, Lexington, arguably the highest performing school district in the United States, spent 58% of its budget on K-12 education.

So, as far as the BPS budget being over one billion dollars, yes, that's true.
As far as that being some outrageous and unreasonable amount, absolutely
If a budget is truly a statement of values, somewhere around 94% of Massachusetts cities and towns value education more than Boston.

I don’t know what’s in the Mayor’s head. I don’t know what he’s up to but I do know that this campaign of misinformation is harming my daughter’s, and 57,000 other BPS children’s, chance at receiving a good education. For the Mayor to continually repeat misleading and untrue numbers, over and over, repeating the lies, is to me, unfathomable. The citizens, the press and the Boston City Council need to intervene and stop this incredibly harmful budget from being passed.

BPS needs to be level serviced - next year, and every year. We can’t balance budgets on the backs of children. Somehow, somewhere, out of a $2.97 billion dollar budget, there’s another $27 million dollars for BPS. And when that money is found it’s not to be used for new programing. We need to fund the programing we already have before we can add anything new, and that’s not easy for me to say.

To nearly level service, BPS needs a budget increase of 4%, the same as the overall budget increase of the city, not the 1.35% the Mayor has proposed. That's the increase our BPS public schools and our children need and deserve.

I’m asking you, the people of Boston, the Boston press and the Boston City Council, to do everything possible to get more funding for BPS, and by more, I mean $27 million dollars. The Mayor’s arguments are no more than fabrications and misdirection. For some unknown reason Mayor Walsh is willing to try and deceive the press and the public in order to consistently underfund our BPS schools. I’m asking you to have the courage speak up and call the mayor's office, call your city councilors, and demand that Mayor Walsh increase the BPS budget by 4%, and not the 1.35% he's proposed. Please. Help our children, Boston’s children, to receive the education that they deserve.