No side bets

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  March 26, 2008

Staffers suggest a likely angle of attack. Much of the BPS problem, they say, comes from a form of “budget creep,” when programs that are initially paid for by grants end up costing the department big bucks. Federal Title I funding to Boston, for example, has been dropping by some $3.5 million a year, but nobody seems keen to end the programs — like family-outreach coordinators — that are no longer receiving that funding. So, it has to come out of the BPS budget.

Menino and his BPS administrators have created this problem, critics charge, because they have been too willing to announce — and take political credit for — those new initiatives when the grants are available, and unwilling to take the heat for canceling those programs, or preventing them from growing beyond their funding.

“These are [former superintendent] Tom Payzant’s proposals, that they started, and now Carol Johnson is left holding the bag,” says one City Council aide. “It’s great to propose things, but how about figuring out whether they are financially viable in the long run?”

Making things tougher, Johnson may have to tackle the problem — and the council-budget hearings — without the guy who has been running the district operations, chief operating officer James McIntyre. McIntyre has just accepted the superintendent’s job in Knox County, Tennessee.

Menino might be lucky that the scope of the school-budget problem did escape notice until now, says one councilor. “I can’t believe that if [Johnson] was given these numbers,” he says, “that she would have taken the job.”

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