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$856 million school budget calls for more nurses, overhaul of Madison Park Vocational Technical High

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson tonight will present an $856.5 million budget proposal for next year that calls for increasing the number of school nurses, overhauling Madison Park Vocational Technical High School in Roxbury, and continuing efforts to turn around underperforming schools.

Johnson will also announce at the School Committee meeting that two middle schools --- the McCormack in Dorchester and the Irving in Roslindale—will have their days extended next year so they can provide more robust opportunities for the arts and athletics, as well as additional instruction.

The extended day—the amount of additional time has not been determined—is being funded through a $2.9 million federal grant over the next three years and $600,000 in contributions from seven foundations and nonprofit organizations.

Mass 2020, a state affiliate of the National Center on Time & Learning, will assist the two schools in extending the day. The schools hope to replicate the success of the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, where an extended day has helped boost test scores and has offered students more enrichment opportunities.

“We know that simply expanding the school day won’t necessarily lead to better results,” Johnson said in a statement before tonight’s meeting. “Having partners like Mass 2020 at our side as we recreate these school schedules and expand the academic and enrichment opportunities for these students will ensure that we are able to surpass all of our own expectations.”

The two schools will lengthen their days just after state education officials end funding for extended days at two other schools—Timilty Middle School in Roxbury and Umana Academy in East Boston. State officials believe the extra time was not used effectively enough to boost test scores, and funding will end this June.

The School Committee will also weigh a proposal to temporarily reopen a Dorchester school to accommodate a sudden influx of preschoolers who require special education immediately. If the committee approves the measure, Fifield Elementary, which closed less than a year ago, would open next week as an early childhood education center and could have seven classrooms in operation by the end of the school year.

The proposal is being put forward as the School Department faces a class-action lawsuit in federal court that asserts that the department routinely violates state and federal laws by denying evaluations and classroom placements for preschoolers with special needs.

The budget outlook for Boston schools for the next school year is much better than three years ago, when the nation’s economic crisis prompted the loss of hundreds of positions and other initiatives.

The latest spending proposal, which requires School Committee approval next month, is 3.1 percent higher than this current school year’s budget—an increase being provided to the School Department by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, as he crafts his budget for the City Council.

John McDonough, the School Department’s chief financial officer, called the increase “very significant” in an interview before the tonight’s meeting.

He pointed out that other big-city districts nationwide are contemplating massive cuts to balance their budgets. Los Angeles, for instance, is considering shrinking its school year to 168 days and San Diego may cut 1,100 positions, McDonough said.

But balancing the proposed school budget for next year in Boston was not easy, McDonough said. In spite of the increase, the School Department still faced a $28 million potential budget shortfall, primarily due to a reduction in state and federal grants.

The School Department was able to remedy the gap through a variety of measures, such as delaying building repairs and some textbook purchases, consolidating teacher training programs, and reducing an unspecified number of vacant positions. The Department also intends to pursue new funding through President Obama’s education agenda.

“One thing we are proud of is that we are able to move forward in a deliberate way to improve school quality,” McDonough said.

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posted in: Massachusetts
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