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By Anand Vaishnav, Boston Globe 3/9/04



Boston public schools with shrinking enrollments as well as the most populated campuses could endure the harshest budget cuts this fall, resulting in possible teacher layoffs and shortened library hours at some schools.

As the School Committee considers a spending plan for 2004-05, Boston’s 139 campuses are learning what next fall holds for them financially. The Mildred Avenue Middle School in Mattapan, one of Boston’s newest campuses, could face the largest cut, about $775,000, according to Boston public school figures.

Principal Shirley Allen said she might lose up to 10 positions, including the swimming teacher and technology coordinator who oversees the school’s 300 computers. Allen said she will fight to keep them. “I certainly don’t expect to get them all back. But for a couple of positions, if there are some funds somewhere, I can certainly make a case,” said Allen, a 30-year veteran of budget battles in the Boston public schools. Allen said she understands the rationale for the decrease, however, because her school received extra money its first year for start-up costs.

The Boston School Committee will hold a budget hearing tomorrow, and is slated to approve the 2004-05 budget on March 24. The district’s overall proposed budget is $653 million, a 1 percent increase over this school year. Last year, the School Department angered principals and parents in small schools when it imposed an 8 percent across-the-board cut for each campus. This year, officials propose what they say is a more equitable way of spreading the pain: targeting the most populous schools, where there is more financial flexibility, and schools with declining enrollments that don’t need as many teachers. The district spared schools with large special-education programs.

“It really is a result of policy changes that tried to deal with the system as a whole,” said Michael Contompasis, Boston public schools’ chief operating officer. “And when you do that, there are going to be some that benefit and some that don’t.”

The school system forecasts eliminating 66 positions, including 10 teachers, officials said. Many who lose their slots could find work if the district adds new positions at growing schools, officials said.
English High School in Jamaica Plain, for example, expects to gain nearly 200 students, and could get $741,000 more than last year, according to the school district.

But English and other schools would receive even more if they were fully funded based on their size and program needs, according to district records.

Brighton High School, for example, is due $7.1 million based on its needs, but is slated for $6.5 million this fall. Headmaster Charles Skidmore said that’s more than what he received this year, enabling him to fill positions he had to cut last year. He remains confident that the 1,275-student campus, one of the early targets in the district’s high school turnaround efforts, will not be set back.

The city’s three exam schools, viewed as the crown jewels among high schools, also are going to take a hit because they are among the largest campuses and have fewer special-education students.

Boston Latin School could lose up to six teachers, including one of its two librarians for 2,400 students in grades 7 to 12, said Cornelia A. Kelley, the school’s headmaster. That would mean that Latin School’s prized library, furnished with leather chairs and cherry wood furniture through a $3 million alumnus donation, would be shuttered after the 2:15 p.m. dismissal bell. It currently stays open until 4 p.m. and is a popular gathering place for students to study, read, or research.

“Most of the time, when I try to do homework, it seems I do my best work in the library,” said Sheila Lee, a seventh-grader.

  

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