In State Of The City, Walsh Calls For Major Investment In Schools

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Mayor Marty Walsh delivers his State of the City address at Boston Symphony Hall on Tuesday night. (Courtesy of Isabel Leon/Mayor's Office)
Mayor Marty Walsh delivers his State of the City address at Boston Symphony Hall on Tuesday night. (Courtesy of Isabel Leon/Mayor's Office)

As Boston Mayor Marty Walsh approaches a reelection campaign, he is promising to create jobs in every neighborhood, build affordable housing, and make major investments in schools.

In his third State of the City address, Walsh announced plans for the city to spend $1 billion to repair and renovate Boston's school buildings. The investment puts an initial dollar amount on a 10-year master plan — called "Build BPS" — to modernize Boston Public Schools' facilities and reform curriculum.

"We will create high-quality, 21st-century classrooms for every student, connected to every neighborhood, college and workplace in our city," Walsh said.

Major school building upgrades can be expensive. For example, a proposal to rebuild Waltham High School is currently estimated to cost $283 million. According to Boston's education chief, Rahn Dorsey, 65 percent of the district's buildings were built before World War II. There are about 130 buildings in Boston's school district.

Walsh said the city is "entering a new era of investment" in schools. He announced Tuesday that he will file legislation to offer free pre-kindergarten to all of the city's approximately 6,000 4-year-olds.

It's something Walsh had promised to do before he was elected. But, he has been unable to pay for it.

Now, the mayor is proposing using tourism taxes to fund the pre-K initiative. Walsh's petition would generate $16.5 million by redirecting surplus revenue raised in Boston from the state's Convention Center Fund to the city. The fund typically has an annual surplus, according to the city.

"Our proposal is funded by tourism taxes, already paid in Boston, that produce the annual surplus in the Convention Center Fund," Walsh said. "It’s only fair that Boston’s success benefits all Boston’s children."

The free pre-kindergarten initiative has Walsh's only election rival so far — City Councilor Tito Jackson — offering him limited praise.

"I actually do want to compliment them on now dealing with this issue of early education. That's a critical issue, but it's something we should have done in the past," Jackson said after Walsh's address.

Jackson said Walsh has been too focused on things like bringing GE's global headquarters to the city.

But Walsh touted GE in his speech. And said he wants to bring in more companies and jobs to every neighborhood in the city. He said the city has added 60,000 jobs in his three years in office.

"We’re developing a high-tech manufacturing sector that provides just that," Walsh said. "In robotics, 3-D printing, medical devices and more, employers are coming and they are growing and they are hiring."

But the prospect of more businesses and development concerns some Boston residents. John Lydon, of Dorchester, said he worries it will push people out of their neighborhoods.

"A lot of big developers are coming in. They’re putting some wonderful buildings in. Great, great businesses are coming in, but people who live there can’t afford it when they come in," Lydon said. "So, I heard some things he said about it, but it’s probably still my biggest concern."

Walsh said the city is also making investments in affordable housing.

"Already we’ve invested $100 million," Walsh said. "Our new requirements on developers call for another $45 million from recent project approvals."

Walsh also thanked the city's residents for voting to adopt the Community Preservation Act, which is estimated to bring in an additional $20 million a year for affordable housing, open spaces and historic preservation.

Walsh is also looking to tackle housing displacement. He said he will file five bills at the State House to protect residents from displacement.

"We’re helping people stay in their homes and neighborhoods," Walsh said. "We created an Office of Housing Stability and our home center helped more first-time buyers achieve their dreams, and more existing homeowners avoid foreclosure, than ever before."

Making neighborhoods safer is also on Walsh's agenda. He called Boston "one of the safest cities in the country," touting a drop in violent crime and arrests. But he said there's still work to be done and the city needs to "keep digging up the roots of violence."

To that end, Walsh announced he is creating five new neighborhood trauma teams to help communities dealing with violence. The new trauma teams will focus on serving Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, East Boston and Mattapan.

"In the aftermath of violence, health centers, hospitals and community groups will coordinate immediate response and sustained recovery for all those affected," Walsh said. "Together we’ll break the cycle of suffering and violence and bring healing to our city."

The city has funded other such teams in the past as part of the mayor's initiative to enhance trauma response and recovery. Children’s Hospital Boston and Partners HealthCare Systems have provided funding for this new initiative.

In his address, Walsh also said the city will invest in infrastructure to improve roadways and traffic for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. This includes installing protected bike lanes, improving crosswalks and bringing "cutting-edge traffic-light technology" and new signals that will adapt to traffic in real time, Walsh said.

He also touted the city's move to test self-driving cars while also calling for a "fully funded plan to move the T into the 21st century."

Overall, Walsh said the city is stronger than it's ever been. And in what almost sounded like a campaign rallying cry, Walsh said he will fight for the city's values.

"I will fight for our families, I will fight for our seniors, and for our children, and for our veterans, and our immigrants, and those with disabilities," Walsh told the crowd. "I will fight for good jobs, and public schools and affordable housing, and racial justice and equal rights for all. And I will never stop fighting for recovery. We are in this together."

This article was originally published on January 17, 2017.

This segment aired on January 18, 2017.


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Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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