Boston Public Students vs. School Budget Cuts

 If written by the right person with the right motives at the right moment, a newspaper polemic can inspire and incite. And with his Boston Globe op-ed this past Saturday – bluntly titled “It’s time to end busing in Boston” – longtime education advocate Ted Landsmark (the man being assaulted in the picture above) did just that.

While Boston Latin School (BLS) parents are an exceptionally involved bunch that’s been clamoring since rumors of teacher cuts surfaced in January, their mission to maintain expected standards in the face of a foreseen budget crisis accelerated in the wake of Landsmark’s landmark.

A note and press release circulated by concerned BLS parents this past Monday read: “Given Ted Landsmark’s op-ed in the Globe approving an end to busing…there is clearly something up about ending busing to offset school cuts…Students and their parents plan to rally for quality schools on Wednesday at the Boston School Department [while] inside the Boston Public Schools will be presenting next year’s budget.”

I spoke with one organizing BLS parent early Wednesday afternoon, and she said that her people reached out to schools across the city. Due to the weather and last-minute nature of their Bat-Signal, she was unsure how many heads would show to rally outside of the preliminary budget meeting; so she must have been thrilled when hundreds of students and their folks showed downtown.

BLS cats ran the demonstration, leading peers and parents through positive chants. Shouting “YES WE CAN…SAVE OUR SCHOOLS” and “STOP THE CUTS,” the crowd took their cause right inside the Court Street lobby. The young bullhorn-wielding organizers had a hierarchy to avoid chaos, delegated press spokespeople, and a single resounding message; all you protest-prone fringe lefties out there can learn a thing or three from these kids.

For a moment – before the Boston School Committee (BSC) festivities commenced – the meeting (held at the end of the first floor hallway) and the rally melted into one. Even when police officers closed doors to keep out noise, students pressed their neon oak tags against the glass windows. (On a side note, I noticed on my way in that the “founding sponsor” of Boston Public headquarters is Merrill Lynch – an indirect catalyst of the mess-at-hand; thanks for nothing assholes).

The meeting started with gratuitous formalities. BSC Chairman Reverend Gregory Groover described the not-so-unrest civil unrest as “democracy at its best;” Superintendent Carol Johnson touted the conscientious mobilization before getting down to business.

Anyone who came for budgetary specifics regarding how many teachers and which programs will be cut – which was just about everybody – likely left unfulfilled. Chief Financial Officer John McDonough delivered news that Boston schools face a budget gap of more than $107 million (the combined result of increased cost and expected decreases in revenue), but he brought no data pertaining to “how many people will be impacted.”

As for that reinvigorated bussing dilemma; the BSC came prepared to quench popular thirst for a Ted Landsmark-recommended overhaul that has Bostonians bubbling with constructive dialogue. The only problem: their “Five Zones” plan – which would reorganize but not end busing – was seen as half-assed by many parents, and is sure to be further lambasted at the upcoming community budget hearings throughout the city (the first of which is Thursday, February 5 at Blackstone Elementary on Shawmut Avenue).

In her opening comments, BLS junior and BSC Student Representative Moriah Smith – fresh off her star turn opening Mayor Menino’s recent State of the City address – commented that the enthusiastic student rally was “nothing against the city or the school system.” And while I understand that she was simply saying what she had to say, I wish that Smith added a “yet”…We’re not marching against the city or the school system…yet.

The BLS organizers and rally participants who congregated Wednesday were exceptionally respectful, but I predict an attitude adjustment when they realize that Menino and his hand-plucked School Committee’s suggestions for how “concerned parents, students, and community partners [can] help address the budget crisis” differ from their own. For anyone who missed Hizzoner’s recommendations in the memorandum, here they go:

-“Support the Mayor’s legislative agenda to provide additional revenue to the City.”

-“Advocate for flexibility in the Economic Recovery Plan.”

-“Support the wage freeze.”

And, if you must, grab your pompoms and cheer Menino on while he does as he sees fit. Even if you disagree. Oh – and while you’re at it – forget about Landsmark’s op-ed and that whole “ending bussing altogether can save us a whole bunch of money” crap.

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