Third-party review prioritizes improving student outcomes through efficiencies
BOSTON – December 18, 2015 – Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Tommy Chang today released the findings of an independent operational review of the school district. Commissioned by the Mayor’s Office last winter, the audit identifies possible opportunities to explore for more efficient operational approaches and suggests reallocating potential cost savings to better serve all students in the system. The independent review was conducted between December 2014 and March 2015 and updated throughout the year as additional information became available.
The audit is not intended to provide formal recommendations but to provide suggestions about opportunities available to BPS. Additional, targeted analysis would be required to confirm specific opportunities, as well as public engagement and strategic evaluations to weigh the costs and benefits of the different options.
“When I came in as Mayor, I commissioned a number of independent audits of the city’s departments to gain an outside view of how our departments are operating and suggestions for possible improvements to consider,” said Mayor Walsh. “With Superintendent Chang just coming up on his first 100 days with Boston Public Schools, this third-party review can serve as a resource for him as he plans for the future of our school system. Superintendent Chang has made several changes already that are positively impacting the way our schools are run and the quality of our education, from the central office to the schools, and I look forward to continuing our work together.”
“Our commitment to high-quality schools will require that we make additional investments in our schools,” said Superintendent Chang. “We know that we need to make some changes at BPS to put us on a more sustainable financial trajectory. Thus, we must create a long-term financial plan that guarantees the district’s financial stability while continuing our emphasis on equity, school site decision-making, and effective investments of available resources. That is why, as part of the district’s 100-Day Plan, we have begun the process of developing a multi-year strategic plan to put us on a path toward long-term fiscal stability.”
The independent audit finds BPS is facing numerous structural challenges. BPS’ student population continued to decline in 2015, decreasing to 54,000 students*. This marks a drop from nearly 100,000 students in the early 1970’s.
Due to decades of decline in student enrollment, BPS is carrying a significant number of underutilized classrooms. Over half of the district’s schools are operating at under 68% of their physical capacity, and only approximately 54,000 of the more than 90,000 physical seats are currently filled.
The audit suggests addressing the growing gap between BPS enrollment and its physical capacity to free up resources that are currently being stretched across too many buildings, estimating a potential to reallocate between $1.7 and $2.2 million per school consolidated. The audit identifies possible areas of reinvestment, such as expanding before and after school programming, offering guaranteed sets of electives at all schools, providing greater supports and resources for teachers, and building a state-of-the-art high school and lower schools.
Separate from this review, Mayor Walsh in September launched Build BPS, a 10-year educational and facilities master plan for BPS that will provide a strategic framework for facilities investments. This multi-year process will take a closer look at student population trends and expectations for the future, develop a vision for 21st century instruction and learning, and complete a facility conditions assessment of the 128 BPS school buildings to maximize the potential uses in infrastructure.
Secondly, the audit reveals wide-ranging inconsistencies in special education identification at the school level. Among the students referred for special education evaluation, 14 of the district’s 128 schools identified or “classified” 100 percent of those students as requiring special education services; while 35 schools identified 0 percent. This range could reflect differing school “cultures” and protocols around identification and possibly imply that some students are receiving services they do not need while others who might need extra support are not receiving it.
Total spending for special education services is $265 million, or 24% of BPS’ budget, and the audit determines that 73% of costs for special education are concentrated in classroom staff, transportation and private placements. Additionally, the audit notes that identification of students with disabilities has grown to approximately 20% of the BPS population, which is higher than the national and state averages.
The audit recognizes that a closer analysis will be needed to determine what changes are appropriate. BPS has already taken steps to engage in an additional analysis focused strictly on special education services. This supplemental review, which is currently underway, will provide a more detailed understanding of district and school-based practices, and provide recommendations for reform.
Under Superintendent Chang’s leadership, BPS this year established the Department of Student Support Services that includes the Office of English Language Learners, Office of Special Education Support and Services, and our newly formed Office of Social Emotional Learning and Wellness. This department is responsible for ensuring that multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) are developed across the district. A key aspect of MTSS is the implementation of prevention and intervention strategies to meet the academic, behavioral, and attendance needs of our students, which research demonstrates prevents the over and under identification of students with disabilities.
A survey of BPS’ Central Office in early 2015 identifies an opportunity to reorganize the Central Office, placing a priority on improving management and collaboration. The audit identifies a disconnect between the goals of each department and the goals of BPS overall, resulting in a lack of strategic vision. Superintendent Chang’s 100-Day Plan, which began on September 8, 2015, recognizes that school leaders are not being adequately supported and, as a first step, eight principal leaders have been hired to coach school leaders throughout the year. Also in this plan, Superintendent Chang commits to undertaking a design process with school leaders to develop more effective Central Office support, professional development needed to deliver that support and what metrics schools will use to provide input on the Central Office.
The audit also notes that while every department collects data, few departments are using it to inform decision-making and strategy. Improved data collection and data integration has the potential to drive better outcomes at a lower cost. The 100-Day Plan emphasizes a strong performance management culture that is based on regular review of key metrics associated with school improvement.
Lastly, the audit identifies opportunities to improve operations and reduce costs, including investigate potential transportation savings, reassess custodial and maintenance services, and consider moving all food services in-house if savings can be captured.
The independent audit was conducted by McKinsey & Company with full cooperation of the Mayor’s Office and Boston Public Schools.
Moving forward, an advisory committee convened by Superintendent Chang, which included community, business, and school leaders, are anticipated to share recommendations for comprehensive financial reforms by mid 2016, in alignment with the district’s long-term strategic plan. Additionally, several groups who worked on initiatives for the 100-Day Plan are planning to release findings to the Boston School Committee this winter.
*The 54,000 BPS student population figure excludes students enrolled in in-district charter schools.