Boston Superintendent Unveils Schools Budget

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Boston Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson has proposed a new school budget that calls for an increase in spending, thanks to an expected jump in funding from the city.

Her proposal also calls for some new uses of school buildings and school time. She wants, for example, to extend the day at two middle schools — McCormack Middle in Dorchester and Irving Middle in Roslindale. That's even though two other Boston schools — Timilty Middle in Roxbury and Umana Academy in East Boston — are losing their funding for extended days because they haven't boosted test scores.

Johnson told WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer that the school department is reviewing Timilty and Umana to determine why they didn't have the success that Edwards Middle School in Charlestown has experienced with an extended day.

But the issue of extending the school day district-wide continues to be a major sticking point in contract negotiations between the school department and the Boston Teachers Union. Union President Richard Stutman says the superintendent refuses to adequately compensate teachers for working an extra few hours.

"The superintendent can't have it both ways," Stutman told WBUR. "She cannot go around the city and nationally saying, 'The Edwards (Middle School in Charlestown) is a great model, but I don't want to pay people.' She has to say, 'The Edwards is a great model and we subscribe to it.' You want people to teach, you're going to have to pay for that one way or another."

In response to Stutman's comments, Johnson stressed that the district has one of the shortest school days in the commonwealth and pays teachers some of the highest salaries.

"We believe that teachers should be paid well. We do want to reward teachers for successful teaching," Johnson said. "And we want to work out an agreement with the teachers union that absolutely recognizes the extra time. We know teachers are spending a lot of their extra time in school. But we have to make sure that that time is given to students."

The district's contract proposal has included a pay increase that the superintendent has suggested would cover extended day teaching. But the union says the proposal falls short of what it is requesting in salary increases for the standard school day.

The superintendent's $856.5 million budget proposal also calls for reopening the recently closed Fifield Elementary School in Dorchester in order to accommodate more preschool children with special needs. This comes as the school department is being sued in a federal class action case that claims that the district hasn't provided classroom spaces and services in a timely manner to preschoolers with autism and other special needs. But Johnson rejected the suggestion that re-opening Fifield is an acknowledgment that the district has failed to provide appropriate services to special needs preschool students.

The district has seen a major increase in preschool students in need of special education services this school year, Johnson said, as referrals from outside agencies and families have increased. She attributes that increase to public awareness programs sponsored by the school department.

"We already have opened several new classrooms," Johnson said. "We are very committed to serving these students, and to giving them programs and services in the least restricted environment and making sure that they get the high quality start that they need to be successful third-grade readers, which is one of our big targets."

This program aired on February 2, 2012.


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