Boston Budget

The Boston Public School System is a large and complicated organization.  Any organization of its size needs to have its short-term plans guided by a longer-term strategic vision.  It would be impossible to discuss school closings this year without knowing what schools are needed in 3 or 5 years.  BLE has been meeting with the Superintendent's staff for several years to to design and prepare such a plan.

BLE's outline for a BPS plan is shown below.  It follows a fairly common business plan approach, including a lead marketing introduction, a clear description of the goals, a list of major strengths and weaknesses of the enterprise,  the important pieces (initiatives) that need to be put in place, a timeline and one (or more alternative) financial projections.  This might be helpful in discussing the BPS plan to be presented to the School Committee and the city in December.


A.  A lead “elevator” paragraph that 1) explains the objective(s) of BPS (proficiency or above for students, timely high school graduation, broad student preparation for productive lives, etc.), 2) identifies principle steps the district must achieve for success (turning around under-performing schools, accelerating improvement for all other schools, strongly strengthen English language learning and special education, expand enrichment opportunities, extend the day, strengthen school-based institutions, etc.), and 3) makes clear the risks (budgetary constraints, improving the quality and connection with teachers and parents, engaging the entire community in the process, etc.)

B.  A more detailed description of the objectives (the Acceleration Agenda goals and others, if appropriate) with benchmarks of where we started (FY 2009) and the ten-year goal (FY 2019) listed by individual goal.

C.  A call to the whole community - district management, individual schools, teachers and the BTU, parents, students, business, philanthropy, non-profits, community groups and city government reiterating why this is important and why everyone must come together to benefit the children.  Be specific about the “ask” (i.e., the district needs to communicate better and more effectively manage, teachers need a flexibility contract, parents need to be flexible about school closings and transformation, business/philanthropy/non-profits needs to band together to create better services, etc.).

Strengths and Weaknesses: A broad list of district assets and liabilities (including shortcomings)

A.  Strengths (i.e., established operating enterprise with facilities and staff, revenues even if constrained, public financial support, the resources of all Boston, many Acceleration Agenda initiatives already in place or launched, etc.)

  1. Identify the critical Acceleration Agenda initiatives with their status (ELL, SPED, Arts/Sports Initiatives, Turnaround Schools, etc.)
  2. Identify already launched central staff efficiencies, new staff, etc.
  3. Other?

B.  Weaknesses (i.e., continuing budget pressures, expensive excess facilities and classrooms, costly transportation, need to improve teacher relationships and the union contract, strengthening internal processes, building strong communications with teachers/students/parents/community, etc.…)

The Important Steps that must be in Place for Success: A lead paragraph that notes the need to balance exciting new initiatives and difficult changes while preserving the best of BPS (i.e., the exam schools, other successful schools and programs, etc.), flowed by a list of the steps in order of priority (limited them to a manageable number, although some may have multiple sub-initiatives as identified in the Acceleration Agenda).       

A.  Example: a new teacher contract, with critical requirements for flexibility, evaluation, etc.

B.  Example: turnaround school strategy and what must still be done

C.  Example: significant improvement for the 30-50 other “level three” schools in danger of problems

D.  Example: ELL strategy and what must still be done

E.  Example: redesigning and improving the efficiency of special needs services

F.  Example: extended day and how to get it started broadly (i.e., the outline of its own plan)

G.  Example: right sizing the district to redeploy resources

H.  Example: school-based management with a related change in district and school management

I.  Example: ensuring communication with all stakeholders


Timeline: This is the schedule, at least by quarter, that defines 1) what you intend to put in place to build existing programs or launch new initiatives, 2) the near-term and longer-term expectations of the programs, 3) the financial costs and other resources/disruptions likely, 4) the proposed reallocations that will be required to support the new/increased initiatives and programs (i.e., school and program closings, staff reallocations, transportation redesign, etc.), and 5) outside resources required to implement.

A.  Suggest using the original 5-year Acceleration Agenda (FY 2009 – FY 2014), so that the district can show what has been put in place, with consequences, in FY 2009 and getting in place in FTY 2010, and so that the real detailed timeline and financial projections (next section) will cover the three prospective years of FY 2011, FY 2012 and FY 2013, when the Acceleration Agenda goals are targeted for achievement.

B.  Balance the pain with the gain (i.e., illustrate what students, parents, and the public can expect from better education, enrichment and services as “redesign and reinvestment” proceeds).

Financial Projections

A.      Provide at least the FY 2009 actual and current budget FY 2010 projections.

B.      Provide costs broken out by “line of business” that link to the major goals and initiatives (i.e., elementary reading/ELA/math, middle school ELA/math/algebra, high school timely graduation, ELL proficiency, SPED improvement, arts/athletics, social-emotional health, etc.) rather than just department expenses.

C.      Provide revenues broken out to show city, state/federal and other (i.e., foundation, business and other philanthropic funding, including the need for such future support).

D.      Provide at least three alternative projections:

1.       John McDonough’s “steady state” projection, including the large and rising deficit, if nothing significant changes in the next three years.

2.       A base case that reflects an “acceptable” union contract season, significant “redesign and reinvestment”, a stable city, state and federal revenue stream, and some increase in private support.

3.       A more radical “redesign and reinvestment” approach, with several alternative assumptions about city, state and federal revenues and also private funding support.