BPS budget changes to cut 250 teaching jobs

John McDonough, Boston Interim Superintendent, outlined next school year’s budget Wednesday night, which will eliminate 250 school personnel and bus rides for seventh and eighth graders. PHOTO BY KENSHIN OKUBO/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

John McDonough, Boston Interim Superintendent, outlined next school year’s budget Wednesday night, which will eliminate 250 school personnel and bus rides for seventh and eighth graders. PHOTO BY KENSHIN OKUBO/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

As the result of cuts made to Boston Public Schools’ 2015 budget, 250 faculty jobs and many busing services to-and-from schools will be cut next year.

The proposed budget for the Boston public school system would be balanced by cutting busing services for seventh and eighth-graders, as well as certain office and teaching positions. More than 4,500 students would no longer commute to and from school by bus, but would instead receive MBTA passes, according to a report released by BPS on Wednesday.

Brian Ballou, director of media relations for BPS, said the plan is very safe and 1,862 seventh and eighth graders have been using MBTA passes to commute to school for years.

“The MBTA buses are well lit, there are cameras on the buses, and there are people from their communities who ride the buses, so we believe that it’s a good plan and extending it to 4,586 students next year will work out fine,” he said. “We imagine there might be snags here and there once it’s implemented, but as kids get more accustomed to taking MBTA buses, we believe it will work out.”

The $973.3 million budget was reduced by more than $100 million for the 2015 fiscal year, according to the report. Although Boston Mayor Martin Walsh is set to increase spending on education by almost 4 percent, cuts were necessary due to other variables.

The BPS report also cited the increasing cost of teacher salaries as necessitating a decrease in the budget, which will cost 250 teachers and office workers their jobs.

“We’ve been dealing with declining federal and state aid for years,” Ballou said. “That’s the reason [for the changes].”

Evangeline Stefanakis, an associate professor of education at Boston University, said reducing funding for school buses was a necessary measure to preserve other essential features of the education system.

“There has to be a trade-off,” she said. “If you keep the budget focused on keeping the best teachers available and the best materials for kids and their learning, then the issue of 12- and 13-year-old kids who can take a bus to school versus be bused at astronomical costs to the school seems a reasonable trade-off.”

Stefanakis also mentioned possible advantages of students using the MBTA bus service such as flexibility in schedule.

“Staying after school to get more help or be involved in educational clubs is really a sound idea,” she said. “Kids get out at two, [and] their parents might be working at this point. It’s reasonable for them to learn to take public transportation.”

Reactions from parents to the MBTA transportation program have been mixed, but many do not feel comfortable with the younger children taking public transportation.

Latia Fox, 31, of Mission Hill, said she is horrified by the reduced busing services. Her 11-year old daughter is in the sixth grade and would be affected by the changes next year.

“I know that she’s not ready for it,” she said. “I don’t think even eighth graders are ready for it. Children don’t know how to say, ‘This is a bad person, this person is lying to me about the fact that they want me to get off at this stop and go this place with them.’ I’d be scared to death every day [that] something happened on the way to school.”

Ngolela Kabongo, 28, of Back Bay, said she believes school buses are a preferable option.

“I was able to take the bus when I was in middle school, but that was only because I was with a group of friends,” she said. “When you get to high school, I think it’s safer to take the T by yourself. Nowadays, I would much rather have the kids, even in seventh and eighth grade, stay on the [school] bus.”

Erik Widding, 40, of Back Bay, said the bigger problem is not cutting busing services but an absence of community-based schools.

“We can fix the disparity in education not in the old way of busing kids all over the city,” he said. “We ought to be strengthening schools instead.”

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