School plan saves hundreds of jobs

Committee to vote on revised budget

By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / March 24, 2009
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Boston schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson has found a way to save 370 teaching and administrative positions as part of a revised budget to be voted on by the School Committee tomorrow night, but she is still proposing the dismissal of at least 200 teachers and classroom aides.

Johnson is also recommending a delay in another key aspect of her original budget proposal scrapping the system's three sprawling student assignment zones in favor of five smaller ones to save on busing costs.

Instead, she will outline a process to gather public comment on the controversial plan, which is expected to be revised before a School Committee vote in the coming months. A Globe analysis found an uneven distribution of low-performing schools among the five zones, and a school district review revealed a lack of middle school seats in two zones.

An infusion of federal stimulus money and additional city funds has enabled Johnson to reduce the number of eliminated positions from more than 900 to about 550.

The School Department will spend about $17 million in federal stimulus money - out of more than $30 million it expects to receive next school year - to revive the positions, said Christopher Horan, a department spokesman. The district wants to use the remaining money on long-term improvements such as new textbooks, upgrading technology, and teacher training.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino will give the department an additional $25 million, said Dorothy Joyce, his spokeswoman. That will increase the school budget for next year to $812 million, which still represents a 2.5 percent reduction in spending from this year.

"The mayor has said that one of the most important things he can do as mayor is provide a quality education for all in the city," Joyce said. "Being able to find those resources is something he wanted to do."

The cuts could lead to the layoff of 134 teachers and 78 classroom aides in good standing as well as the dismissal of an unspecified number of other teachers who do not have job security or are not performing up to standards, Joyce said. She said the layoff of teachers in good standing could be avoided if the teachers union would agree to a one-year wage freeze.

However, Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said yesterday it is too early in the process to consider a wage freeze. Changing dynamics, he said, have already allowed the superintendent to dramatically reduce the number of potentially lost positions in the month since she first presented her budget. He said he remains hopeful that the city will receive additional federal money to restore positions or that the Legislature will allow cities and towns to raise meals and hotel taxes.

"All parties expect there to be more restorations as we move forward," Stutman said.

Should layoffs occur, affected teachers would have to be notified by June 1, he said.

The originally proposed cuts galvanized students and parents across the city to rally for the preservation of teaching positions and programs such as the arts.

Menino, who first said last week that he was planning to lay off 212 teachers and classroom aides, came up with the additional $25 million through savings realized by not filling vacant positions, renegotiating health insurance coverage with Harvard Pilgrim, and tapping reserve funds, Joyce said.

The School Committee, which will hold its meeting at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the Lilla Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester, must approve a budget this month so it can be included in the mayor's overall spending request that he will present to the City Council early next month.

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