DESPITE MANY woes, the city of Brockton has long been a bright spot in urban education. The district has made real progress at boosting student achievement. But now, facing a budget deficit, the school system has sent out a blizzard of pink slips.
The situation isn’t as dire as the 430 layoff notices would suggest, but it is a cause for concern. It will require responsible compromises by its taxpayers, teachers union, and, under certain conditions, the state to preserve educational opportunities for some of the state’s most vulnerable children.
As many as 313 positions could be cut as the district struggles to pare about $10 million from its $135 million budget. That could mean a loss of 130 teachers from a staff that, at 1,200, is already down 200 positions from just a few years ago. As in other working-class cities, Brockton’s school spending depends heavily on state education aid. At best, that aid will be level-funded in the coming fiscal year, even as health care and labor costs rise. One substantial factor in Brockton is the teachers’ contract, which calls for a phased-in 5 percent raise during the next school year.
Although no Proposition 2 1/2 override is planned, Mayor Linda Balzotti is asking the city council to increase the meals tax. The teachers themselves could play an important role here in saving jobs. Each percentage increase in pay costs $1.3 million, which means they could forestall some layoffs by agreeing to reduce their upcoming raise. There are precedents: Quincy teachers, for instance, recently voted to save some colleagues’ jobs by delaying a planned raise.
Brockton should also use this difficult period to investigate the savings it could realize if city employees got their health care through the state’s Group Insurance Commission. With scores of schools jobs on the chopping block, that option may meet with less union resistance than it usually does.
The state should keep a watchful eye as well. Brockton’s school funding hasn’t been adjusted for the 128 Haitian refugees who have enrolled since the January earthquake. An amendment Brockton Representative Geraldine Creedon secured in the House budget calls for a plan to help communities whose schools have felt a big refugee impact. State Education Secretary Paul Reville, meanwhile, says Brockton’s influx of students could warrant more state help.
Brockton itself needs to step up first, but if it does, state policy makers should do what they can to ensure that tough budgetary times don’t fall too heavily on students in the City of Champions.