Brockton Superintendent Kathleen Smith said the district was hopeful additional state funding would be provided to help bridge some of the gap, but that didn't happen.
BROCKTON – A tight budget season featuring a $16 million shortfall has forced the district to make tough decisions across the board, and the picture hasn’t changed much as the new school year kicks into gear, according to Superintendent Kathleen Smith.
The district’s most recent report on its budget situation shows that 224 positions have been eliminated across the district, including more than 70 teaching positions.
Paraprofessional positions, which provide specialized in-classroom support to teachers, have seen the biggest reductions with 94 positions eliminated, representing about 41 percent of all staffing cuts – the most of any category – followed by the teachers, at 73 positions, and monitor teacher assistants, where 21 positions were eliminated, according to the report.
Programs across the district have been cut or scaled back, too, and the administration shifted up its building use plan to save money.
The Gilmore school’s roughly 600 students were moved from the Huntington School this year after the district closed the Goddard Alternative School and moved the program into the Huntington building. The move was expected to save about half a million dollars amid the shortfall.
The students previously at the Gilmore have been moved to the Barrett Russell School building. Kindergartners at Barrett Russell were moved to other elementary schools around the district.
Smith said the district was hopeful additional state funding would come through to help bridge some of the gap, but that didn’t happen. Instead, state legislators approved a boost in education funding of about $30 per student, on average, she said.
Brockton is set to receive a little less than $1 million more in Chapter 70 funding than it received last year, according to state education department data, representing just a 0.6 percent increase. The size of the difference in state aid that the district receives each year has steadily been declining since at least 2007, the data shows.
Meanwhile, the district will pay about $4.3 million to send over 300 students to charter schools this year. A ballot initiative to lift restrictions on how many such schools may open in the state failed in last November’s elections, but a new charter school opened in the city last year.
The district paid about the same to charters in fiscal year 2016, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, but received state reimbursements for about 20 percent of that tab.
No reimbursement was provided last fiscal year, according to a district report, and the district doesn’t expect to receive one this year, either. Overall, the district’s payments to charter schools have risen more than 200 percent since 2007, according to DESE.
Changes to the way low income students are counted in the formula that governs state aid distribution also hit the district hard, Smith noted, to the tune of about $6 million. Those changes mean students who qualified for free or reduced lunch and were previously counted toward the district’s poverty rate now must benefit directly from a state welfare program to count.
Smith said that saw the district’s poverty rate drop from about 81 to 55 percent of the student population.
“We’ve been talking about all of the factors: charter, economic disadvantage, a broken foundation (budget) formula not really supporting poor kids in large urban centers,” Smith said. “Not an additional penny came from the state.”
At the federal level, the district did see an increase in Title I aid, she said, which helps districts with high proportions of low-income students, Smith said, but most of it went toward paying raises mandated under the teacher’s union contract. At the same time, the district lost funding through the federal Title II program, forcing cuts to curriculum support staff, Smith said.
The state also hasn’t acted on any of the recommendations put forward by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, Smith noted, which was tasked with reviewing how the state’s public schools are funded. The commission found that the system is under-funded by about $1 billion.
That failure is expected to be the focus of an education equity lawsuit the district has been preparing and plans to file against the Baker administration in the fall.
The lawsuit will allege that the state has failed to provide adequate funding for all students by failing to act on the recommendations and changing the math for calculating districts’ poverty rates.
A similar lawsuit, also spearheaded by Brockton, led to the Education Reform Act in 1993.
The effects of the budget crisis are being felt among the district’s staff, who have confronted the School Committee during public comment sessions at recent meeting.
The July 11 meeting saw a group of teachers who work in structured English immersion classrooms, which are designed to rapidly teach English to English language learning students, raise concerns about cuts to the native language speaking paraprofessionals in those classrooms.
English language learners make up about 20 percent of all students in the city’s schools, while English is not the first language for about 38 percent of the district’s student population, according to state data.
The teachers said cuts in previous years have resulted in split classrooms for those students, where two grades are being taught by the same people.
The paraprofessionals, they said, were crucial in supporting the teachers, and now worry it will be even more difficult to provide students with the proper level of instruction, prepare them for state testing and maintain compliance with education requirements.
The August 8 meeting saw similar concerns expressed about the district’s instrumental music programs, which had to be completely eliminated at the fourth grade level.
School Committee Vice Chairman Tom Minichiello, Jr. said the district has tried to makes cuts as evenly as possible across the schools, but a $16 million budget shortfall means making tough choices.
“We had to prioritize our spending, and we are going to be down 80-some-odd teachers and close to 100 paraprofessionals,” he said. “Everyone is getting hit, there’s no discrimination in how we’re choosing. As things transpire, based on what he have, we will try to fill some holes. The special ed department is not happy, the music department is not happy. No one is happy. This is horrible and people need to come together, not divide.”
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