Let’s crunch some numbers and take a look at that billion dollar BPS budget

The very minute my Christmas vacation started, and I mean on the train on the ride home, I developed a fever. So while my family was out being merry and bright, I was home, bedridden. This was very sad so I decided to take the opportunity to crunch some numbers. But please remember, this blog post was written in a feverish haze.

One thing I’ve been hearing a lot lately, from disparate but not disconnected places, is about the billion dollar BPS budget.

A billion dollars! A billion dollars! BPS is costing the city a billion dollars!

Now granted, a billion is a big number. Really big. But what I wanted to know, is it an unreasonable number.

One thing that I noticed is that people who like to bring up the billion dollar budget like to compare Boston to other states, places like Florida or Alabama, where they are admittedly spending far less on education. I wonder how the parents and students in these states feel about the per pupil spending of their local school districts. Do they think they are being adequately funded?

Some of that can be explained by differences in the cost of living. But also, budgets are statements of values. And Massachusetts has valued and invested in education. And it shows. Here is Massachusetts’ performance compared to other states in the most recent NAEP tests. Even when you adjust for demographics, we come out on top.



This is important, because my fear is that with the governor’s rush to sell off commonly held schools to private interests, we are abandoning our values.

I thought it would be interesting to judge Boston not by the standards of other states but by our own standards. How does Boston’s education spending compare to the other cities and towns in the Commonwealth?

As far as per pupil spending goes, the latest figures from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website is in 2014. They list BPS as spending $18,318 per pupil. That figure wasn’t an outlier at all. In fact, 43 cities and towns spend more per pupil including poorer communities like Lawrence ($19, 672) and Lowell ($18,816). The real outlier was Provincetown. That gay little outpost spends a whopping $30,626 per student.

I placed all of the cities and towns on a chart so you can see where Boston lands next to other places in Massachusetts.

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I’m not particularly sure that this chart is helpful but have at it.

Now, the other kvetching I hear a lot is about how much of Boston’s budget BPS takes up. I’ve heard 40% but I couldn’t find it sourced, and I can’t remember who told me that number. It was probably some whining city councilor.

Continue reading “Let’s crunch some numbers and take a look at that billion dollar BPS budget”

I really want to meet the McKinsey auditors

One of the reasons why I am interested in seeing the entire McKinsey report is because I would like to know who these jokers are.

On page 16 of the report, it reasons that some Students with Disabilities must be receiving services they don’t need because there are thirty-five schools with no students on IEPs.

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Two of the schools named for having 0% students with IEPS: the Haley and the Henderson. Now anyone with a child with a disability in Boston knows these schools because they are two fully inclusive schools structured with Students with Disabilities in mind. Parents of children with IEPs try for years to get their children into these schools based on their reputation. But according to this report, there are no Students with Disabilities at these schools.

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The thirty five schools with the report states that have no children on IEPS

Did the auditors not find it remarkable that a school would have no students on IEPs? Did they not think to check this out? They did make over a half a million dollars preparing this report so maybe they could have bothered to pick up a phone.

And even if it was true, even if the Haley and the Henderson had no children on IEPs, it does not follow that the kids at the other schools are getting services they don’t need. That’s not how this works.

I would like to know if the auditors are neuropsychologists who looked at these children’s WISC scores and decided that the IEP was inappropriate. Are they speech therapists who conducted an assessment of the children’s speech and decided they shouldn’t be getting that ½ hour of pull out services? Because that is how you decide if a child needs services. You don’t count heads and then decide you’ve gone over the limit.

As far as I’m concern, all this report is doing is inviting lawsuits. Did BPS deny your child occupational therapy? Appeal to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals and present this presentation as an exhibit. Look, BPS has decided to deny services because the bean counters decided there were too many kids on IEPs.

The suggestion that you reclassify children or deny them services for financial reasons is illegal. Next time the city decides to hire someone to prepare a $660,000 report, maybe they could hire someone who knows enough to check special education laws first.

My recommendations for BPS

Personally, I find it entirely suspicious that an audit report that Boston Public Schools received in April wasn’t released until the day after BPS presented an ugly budget to the school committee.


But wait a minute, has anyone actually seen the report? Because what was actually released was a powerpoint presentation about the report. There was absolutely no information about methodologies, qualifications of the auditors or data used. It was a summary of findings.

So I would like to ask city hall since the taxpayers of Boston paid $660,000 for that report, do you think you could release the entire thing to us? Can we see what we paid for?

I won’t hold my breath.

I did find the summary of findings interesting in that I thought it made a lot of faulty presumptions like our Students with Disabilities are being given services they don’t need. But I also noticed what was absent.

There was no mention of what the state legislature found through the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) this year. That commission found that the state is seriously underfunding school districts due to rising health costs and special education.

There was no mention that Governor Baker has shown zero interest in pursuing the recommendations of the FBRC and appears completely comfortable with gutting our schools in urban cities, charter schools the exception, of course.

There was no mention of the fact that the state legislature is ignoring the FBRC and continues to underfund schools.

There was no mention of the fact that the state legislature has not fully paid the charter school reimbursements to the school districts that have lost money to charters. (Ladies and gents, we need to start voting these people out of office.)

There was no mention of the fact that the charter industry is constantly destabilizing BPS by its push for a greater and greater market share.

Also, in slide 17 it states that the number of schools has stayed constant. This is false. Carol Johnson alone closed or allowed charter takeover for 20 schools.

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Slide 17 of McKinsey powerpoint presentation

But my biggest issue with the audit is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Does Boston want to be efficient? If you want to save money, why have teachers at all? Kids learn a lot from Youtube. Let’s just hand them an Ipad.

For that matter, why pave roads? Or have a fire department? Why should we pay for a police department? This is America. We are all well armed and can take of bad guys ourselves.

In fact, if we all just vacated the city, guns and Ipads in hand, things would be a lot more efficient around here. Boston would run really well without all the messy and complicated people with their people problems mucking up the works. You could save a ton of money if there was no one who needed services.

So there’s my recommendation. Let’s all leave Boston.

Mayor Walsh, you owe me $660,000.


Inclusion is not cheap!

I enjoyed Louise Kennedy’s recent article on the McKinsey Audit that

My son at the Nutcracker because it pains me to post without a picture.

Mayor Walsh commissioned to look at Boston Public Schools. I’m quoted in the article but I had a few additional thoughts.

My biggest concern is that this report is based on efficiency and not on sound academic principles. The report does not give any information on who the auditors are but it would be hard for me to believe that they are educators, doctors or therapists.

Of biggest concern to me is the proposal to move the 3,400 kids in subseperate classrooms into inclusions classrooms. Let me be clear, I think inclusion is a wonderful thing. When it is done well it benefits both the child with special needs and the other children in the classroom. But you can’t do inclusion on the cheap. Inclusion needs to be done for education reasons and not to save money. Because when it is done poorly everyone suffers.

The schools that do inclusion well have lower class sizes, 2 teachers in the classroom, a paraprofessional and the children are given services such as ABA therapy, Speech and Occupational Therapy. This requires more staff and money. All of this goes against the reports overarching recommendations to cut staff and increase class sizes.

You can’t just throw a bunch of high needs kids in a classroom with one dual certified teacher and call it a day. Yes, that’s efficient. You’ll save money but you won’t be getting good educational outcomes.

Inclusion must be based on the needs of the children in the classroom. If you do it to save money, you will betray the core reason for the school district’s being: the children.

The McKinsey Audit: BPS Operational Review_PPT (1)


Are you pissed off?

Is BPS being sold off piece by piece making you angry? There is you can do about it.

There are two important meetings this week.

The Boston Area Justice Alliance BEJA
is having a Family Engagement Meeting
Thursday, December 17, 2015
6:00 – 8:00 pm
Whittier Street Health Center
1290 Tremont Street, Roxbury

(we are still working on the name)
Monday, December 21, 2015
6:30 to 8:30
BTU Hall
180 Mt Vernon Street

Allies Welcome! Please join us!


The fish rots from the head down

Well, that was interesting.

City Council Education Chair and good guy Tito Jackson called for a hearing today on charter school discipline practices and attrition rates. The most riveting testimony came from parents of kids in charter schools and the kids who had been pushed out of charter schools. They testified about their children being suspended multiple times for minor infractions like not having the right number of pencils or turning their head when they should be tracking the teacher. One woman testified that her 5 year old had been suspended 10 times this school year.

Notably, Councilor Flaherty was incredibly comfortable with the idea of disciplining children in this manner likening it to Catholic schools. He even stated that there are some children he would not want in the same classroom as his kids and what are you supposed to do with a child like that?

photo Chris Farone

But of the greatest interest to me was the panel from Boston Public Schools. Now considering that BPS has been suffering a multi-million dollar deficit year after year, and considering that they are responsible for educating the children who come back traumatized from charters, you might think they  would have some interest in conveying the reality of the situation to the city councilors at this public hearing.

But you would be wrong.

Councilor Jackson started off the questioning by asking about the budget deficit in relation to charter reimbursements. But the woman on the panel took this opportunity to relay Mayor Walsh’s support of charters and talk about his desire to raise the cap on charter schools. Note, this was not at all responsive to the question. She would reiterate Marty Walsh’s support of charters three times during this conversation apropos of nothing.

Because the panel had been identified as a BPS panel, I thought she was from the BPS office. Her testimony caused me to tweet a string of profanities at the superintendent and the mayor, both of whom, I assume, have my Twitter handle on mute.

She later identified herself as being a city hall employee not a BPS employee so I’m not sure what she was doing on that panel.

BPS administrators were then asked some basic demographic questions such as how many ELL students and how many SPED students is BPS responsible for and they could not answer the question. They were at a public hearing representing BPS, and they did not have the most basic of knowledge about the school district even though there had been parent testimony on those numbers ½ an hour before. When asked for the charter to public migration numbers, the BPS admins stated that BPS is not tracking that number.

Councilors Flaherty and McCarthy then asked BPS about per pupil spending and the BPS officials repeatedly stated that they spend $20,000 per pupil without giving any information about what the number meant.

They left it to Karen Kast-McBride to explain in a later panel that the $20,000 was an average, and that BPS spends between 5,000 and 8,000 for a general ed non-ELL student. And that BPS most certainly did not spend $20,000 per student.

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The ACTUAL number BPS is spending on a general ed student

Time and time again, it has been up to the parents to defend their schools and their school district, BPS officials being MIA when we need them the most. If BPS cannot advocate for itself, it should at least be willing to provide accurate data to city officials when asked. And it has left me to wonder, who exactly, has been put in charge of our school district, when BPS administrators are incapable or unwilling to answer direct questions and give a factual account of our school district.

Or, as one of my wise twitter followers had said, the fish rots from the head down.


The Demands of Phantoms

Families of Boston,

You want a Unified Enrollment System because it will be easier, more equitable, user friendly and transparent. So says this presentation to the Board of Education.

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But look closely at the slide, Boston. This isn’t a presentation at the Bolling Building. This is a presentation being given all the way on the other side of the country. This is a presentation to the Oakland Unified School District.

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Notice how the language duplicates what we are hearing in Boston. Here is Mayor Walsh’s Vision for Boston Families.

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Because one strange thing that has been happening to me since starting this blog is that I am being contacted by parents all over the country who are experiencing the same thing in their communities.

This mother in Oakland contacted me because she noticed the similarities between the Boston Compact meetings and the community engagement meetings in her community. There was the same insistence that the demand was coming from the community itself, but when you actually go to the meetings, the room is filled with administrators. On both coasts, this proposal is being pushed to satisfy these phantom families that are crying out for unified enrollment. These always invisible, but very insistent, parents who only want to fill out one application.

I do believe there is someone who wants Unified Enrollment in our communities but he is not attending the meetings. And that gentleman’s name is Bill Gates. He is funding all of these initiatives so this obviously something that he is interested in.

But I’ll tell you, the thing that annoys most of about this whole situation is the facade of community engagement, when in actuality, the decision has been already made.

This was Mayor Walsh response to opposition to Gate’s Unified Enrollment plan.


Because this was never about the families of Boston. And in California, this is not about what the parents of Oakland want or need. We do not matter here other than to give air cover to the decision makers plans.

Why does Bill Gates want this? Why is he so interested in our ease and convenience when enrolling our children in school?

I have no idea. He certainly isn’t talking to me, a mere parent, about what my children need.

This is the Facebook Page of OUSD Parents United: https://www.facebook.com/OUSDparentsunited/?fref=ts

We are trying to get something similar off the ground in Boston.

The Oakland School Board is voting on January 27th on Unified Enrollment. The Boston School Committee has not scheduled our vote yet.

A few more thoughts on Unified Enrollment

My son giving a tour of the school.

It’s been a heady couple of days! In an article in the Boston Globe, the parent opposition to the unified enrollment proposal was loud and clear.

Unfortunately, in the rhetoric against the corporate charter movement, and against the agenda of large foundations that aren’t from Boston, the main point was lost.  I think that these players have too much to say about our district system of education, but I am far more concerned that availability of free, high quality public education in the city is likely to suffer as a result of this enrollment plan.

Why spend the resources on a plan that could undermine that availability when we need to do so much more to improve?

And resources are the issue.  From the 10 year master plan that the Mayor’s office has developed for the Boston Public Schools, in which local schools are expected to ‘merge,’ to the off-the-record conversations parents have had with municipal officials that hint at large numbers of school closures, to the Mayor’s own testimony that more charter schools should be phased in to the system, one thing that parents know for sure that our neighborhood district schools are under threat of closure.

More district school closures will inevitably lead to charter schools opened their place.  Publicly funded charter schools in theory are supposed to lead to better outcomes for our kids.  And plenty of parents with their kids enrolled in charter schools in the city like their experiences.   But in practice, charter school outcomes have so far been lackluster, compared to the hype. Charter school disciplinary tactics are questionable .   And charter schools simply don’t take the neediest kids:  the children with special needs, and English language learners .

So, kids who can be educated in the neighborhood will be forced into a newly opened charter school that is likely not delivering on its promise.  And the neighbor’s kids who have special needs?   They’ll be bused outside of the community to a district school further away.

The situation is further worsened by the pernicious budget reality that district schools are not funded at the same level as charter schools.  For now, there is a cap on the number of charter schools that can be established (the cap applies to charters that are independent from the local school district, versus those that must be approved by the host school district), but there is also a move to lift the cap via a ballot question next year.

Right now, the city pouring resources into unifying BPS and charter school enrollment procedures is a tricky political maneuver that does nothing to solve these problems.