星期二, 10月 25, 2016

BPS Calls for Community Input with Release of Long-Term Financial Plan Report

BPS Calls for Community Input with Release
of Long-Term Financial Plan Report
Long Term Financial Plan Advisory Committee Proposes 10 Ideas to Reallocate Resources to Benefit Boston Public Schools Students and Achieve Financial Stability District-wide
Boston, MA - Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - The Boston Public Schools today called for community input with the release of "Investing in Student Success: 10 Big Ideas to Unlock Resources in Boston Public Schools," a report on the district's financial future which aims to provide transparency, accountability, and efficiency to the BPS long-term financial planning process. The ideas presented in the report were developed by an advisory committee of key stakeholders over the course of the last year. At a breakfast hosted by EdVestors, Superintendent Tommy Chang was joined by a host of thought leaders in education, policy, and finance to discuss the report and launch the start of a community conversation.

"This report is a courageous step towards financial stability for our schools and deep investments in our students," said Superintendent Tommy Chang. "The Long-Term Financial Plan Advisory Committee was willing to take a more focused look at large, structural issues that constrain our public education system. These efforts could result in the reallocation of significant dollars. BPS along with our community stakeholders will work together to consider how to move this work forward and to provide students with even greater learning opportunities - the best this country has to offer."

BPS Chief Financial Officer Eleanor Laurans and Assistant to the Superintendent Erika Giampietro presented an overview of the report, which was then followed by a panel discussion, which included: Dr. Andres Alonso, Professor of Practice at Harvard University Graduate School of Education and former CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools; Michelle Wu, President of the Boston City Council; Dr. Naia Wilson, Headmaster of New Mission High School; Gordonia Cundiff, a BPS parent; and Dr. Tom Hehir, Professor of Practice at Harvard University Graduate School of Education and former Director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs.

School Committee Chairperson Michael O'Neill, a seasoned financial services professional who served on the advisory committee, said, "Every single child in BPS deserves a top-notch education, yet limitations on spending could cause strains on opportunities if changes are not made. The advisory committee worked hard to develop these ideas for the community to consider and evaluate in collaboration with Boston Public Schools. This is the beginning of a conversation about how we're going to better position our district to provide the education our kids deserve."

The report provides an overview of the areas of the budget which have contributed to financial pressure: transportation, salaries and benefits, the district footprint, special education services, and state and federal funding. The report also examines expected future challenges in the absence of change, estimating that costs would rise $20-$25M per year more than revenue would rise.  

The options identified by the advisory committee could unlock more than $100M in annual savings to reinvest and address rising costs. More information and community dialogue opportunities will be listed at bostonpublicschools.org/financialplan.

The ideas are as follows:

#1: Reduce long-distance BPS Transportation by Adjusting Student Assignment Policy

In 2012, BPS moved from a 3-zone student assignment system to a home-based assignment system which over time will reduce transportation costs. However, cost reductions from this reform are currently limited for two reasons: First, there is a delay in the time it will take to realize the full savings of home-based assignment given that current students (and their siblings) are "grandfathered" into their current schools. Second, the former 3-zone student assignment system is only one of several reasons that students are assigned to schools far from home. In addition, the district also supports a number of specialized programs that draw students from across the city. Looking for ways to address these causes could result in significant savings.

#2: Adopt State-Mandated Transportation Eligibility Distances

Currently, the provision of BPS transporta­tion is more generous than the requirements set forth in state law. BPS provides yellow-bus transportation to any kindergarten or elementary school student who lives more than a mile away from school and to any sixth-grader who lives more than a mile and a half from school (state law requires K-6 transportation only for students who live two miles or more from school). Addi­tionally, BPS offers transportation services to students in grades 7-12 who live two miles or more from school, which is not required under state law, except for students requiring transportation as part of their IEP accommodations. BPS could, with School Committee approval, change this policy to only offer transportation to students in grades K-6 living either 1.5 or 2 miles away from their school (vs. 1 mile).

#3: Maximize Efficiencies in Transportation

In order to increase efficiencies, the com­mittee prioritized the following potential changes: 1) better balancing school start times so fewer buses are needed on the road, 2) clarify which students do not need transportation, and 3) expand transporta­tion options for students who live far from school. The following ideas also warrant exploration: shifting to two bell times, increasing students' maximum route time, increasing walk to stop distances, "linking" schools, and exploring a "hub and spoke" model.

#4: Reconfigure the district's footprint (i.e. grade alignment, class sizes, etc.)

Running underutilized schools across a variety of grade configurations is costly; add in a plethora of programming and city-wide enrollment patterns and it creates a system with classrooms that are not full. BPS can concentrate resources to offer richer programming at fewer sites by making ad­justments to: 1) the number of total schools, 2) the number of locations at which certain programs are offered, and 3) the meth­odology used for student assignment and enrollment projections, which link closely to the coherence of grade configurations across schools. For all of these changes to occur, decisions must be made based on reliable, accurate data that reflects school capacity, student demand, and assessments of equity by neighborhood.

#5: Examine teacher wages and extended school days

While teacher salaries across the country have declined or remained flat in real terms over the last few years, teacher salaries in Boston have increased (teachers made an average of $91K in fiscal year 2017). Today, the average teacher in Boston makes more than national or neighboring districts. The district, in partnership with the Boston Teachers Union, could make adjustments both to the rate of growth of the wage schedule and to the terms of implementing extended learning time. If the next contract were similar to the terms of the current contract, we would expect annual costs to increase ~$50M within three years.

#6: Advocate to Change Tenure Law

Three years ago, BPS implemented an early hiring initiative aimed at giving school leaders greater ability to choose the staff employed in their classrooms through mutual consent hiring. While the program has had many successes, it remains expensive because, based on state law, teachers who do not secure a position are still owed a salary, costing the district $10-$15M annually. If the Massachusetts Legislature were to amend this law, the savings would be significant.

#7: Ensure Appropriate Student Special Education Identification and Administration Support

When considering changes in Special Education, where BPS' highest need and most vulnerable students are served, BPS always considers changes through the lens of serving students better and more efficiently. The changes considered in this category are focused on ways in which BPS can consider redirecting current dollars to better serve students in the most inclusive environments. They include strategies such as prioritizing tiered interventions to best serve all students, improving identification and placement practices, clarifying guide­lines for assigning and removing additional supports for students as needed, and considering alternative models for special education administration.

#8: Streamline Central Office

Amid difficult budget cycles, BPS seeks to protect school budgets as much as possible. For this reason, historically the district has focused reductions in central office and will continue to look for opportunities to do so. At 6% of the overall budget, the opportunity here will be limited in size, but exploring this closely will be critical. One specific opportunity is paid administra­tive leave, ensuring that all cases are being handled appropriately and expediently. In addition, BPS is looking closely at the cen­tral office organization structure and assess­ing each function, the extent to which is it effectively supporting schools, and whether it can be performed more efficiently.

#9: Advocate to Realign State Education Formulas

The Massachusetts' charter school finance model is broken for Boston. There are two possible areas of advocacy at the state level. First, we can advocate to create a reliable transition funding mechanism (Charter Reimbursement). Second, we can advocate to adjust state education formulas and the city's charter school assessment to recognize the true cost of the highest need students.

#10: Advocate to Give Boston More Flexibility to Modify its Revenue Structure

Boston's revenue sources and growth are lim­ited by Proposition 2 ½ and State Law. Bos­ton doesn't have the legal ability to impose broad based sales or income taxes, unlike many cities outside of Massachusetts. It is also limited in its ability to raise excise taxes such as motor vehicle, room occupancy and aircraft fuel. As net state aid is declining and Boston generates nearly one-fifth of state tax revenues (2014), we should advocate that Boston is given more flexibility to modify its revenue structure.