Jackson: Proposed BPS Budget Shortchanges Students, “Pits Parent Against Parent”
By Mary Ellen Gambon
Mayoral candidate Tito Jackson spent the past month holding education meetings in Boston’s neighborhoods. As chair of the Committee on Education, Jackson has taken the lead on listening to parents’ and teachers’ concerns about the current educational crises and the impending cuts proposed to some already strapped programs.
“One of the biggest reasons I decided to run for mayor is because of the Boston Public Schools,” said Jackson. “Schools are geared to run around supports. They have them for one extreme or the other. All the other kids are left behind.”
Jackson was one of the most vocal advocates of the No on 2 campaign. He marched with the 4,000 students who relinquished their class time to prove how valuable their overall education is to the Walsh Administration. This did not protect school budgets.
Currently, 49 of the 124 schools are proposed to receive funding cuts. Even if the budget goes up a small amount, it is only a Pyrrhic victory, as costs have escalated. Also, the budget doesn’t factor in the devastating slashes to social programs like school lunches proposed by our current president.
Jackson spoke of having a lunch two weeks ago at a public school. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “You had two minutes to get your lunch. I had one of those ‘mystery meat’ lunches we used to joke about. It looked like Chipotle chicken. You had 10 minutes and then, done. It’s not just the quality of the food, but the time you have to eat it. How can you learn if you don’t have the proper nutrition?”
One resident, an adult ESOL teacher, said there was no line item in the current budget for her program. Last year, there were two classes at Madison Park High School, where she teaches. Currently there is only one. There was a one-to-eight student-to-teacher ratio; that ratio is now one-to-ten. Yet, in comparison, Brookline has two teachers and five para-professionals per class.
A program that was in the budget for nearly 50 years is on the chopping block when it is vital not only for students but also for their parents to help kids with homework and to find gainful employment. As a “sanctuary city,” we need to be more responsive to non-native speakers. Thirty percent of Boston residents can benefit from ESOL training, Jackson noted.
Also, 100 buildings were constructed in the World War II era, according to a Walsh interview on Bloomberg Radio last month. They obviously need repair or replacement.
“We can’t have students drinking out of water fountains made from lead pipes,” said Jackson. He noted that not all schools have a librarian or a nurse.
One example of a poor school is Brighton High School, with only one bathroom for boys and one for girls with a student population of around 900.
When students see a lack of pride in their schools, they internalize that. This can be noted in drop-out and truancy rates. Ultimate consequences can result in incarceration or far worse.
Truancy is a problem that goes hand in hand with eventual incarceration. Jackson told the groups. He has seen this in District 7. “You can see 10-year-olds in Hyde Square. When they are not in school, they are not learning.”
Jackson proposed several initiatives he would like to install as mayor. These included an emphasis on vocational education as well as programs for computer coding. He also wants to begin computer classes at the kindergarten level. “For every person who knows computer coding right now,” Jackson said, “there are 17 jobs available.”
Art and music are other programs that Jackson would like to see restored. “Boston is a great incubator,” he stressed. “Look at all of the universities and colleges we have nearby. They should be partnering with schools and providing mentors.”
The biggest controversy is the closing of the Mattahunt School in Mattapan. Parents rallied against its being renamed the Mattapan Early Education Center. At two of the meetings, parents complained that their children cannot get kindergarten seats because kids who were slated to attend the Mattahunt will now have preferential assignment at the schools of their parents’ choice.
“How can you split up siblings, when they were promised they were going to go to the same school,” asked one parent. “The system is pitting parent against parent.”
This is not the BPS system that I remember and cherish. I was fortunate to have teachers who believed in me and had the resources to educate our classes. I hope this system can be renewed and repaired before it is too late.