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City Braces for Budget Cuts

Non-profit programs from around the city face down substantial cuts

By Peter F. Zhu, Crimson Staff Writer

Cambridge city officials and organizations have only just begun to digest and grapple with last month’s initial round of state budget cuts, but already, the specter of further cuts—perhaps as early as February—is looming overhead.

Just-A-Start Corporation, a Cambridge non-profit dedicated to developing and maintaining affordable housing while also arranging education and job training services for low-income residents, is facing substantial cuts to three of its programs—Youthbuild, Mediation for Results, and Biomedical Careers Training.

And the director of these programs has voiced concern that further budget cuts could incapacitate them entirely.

Youthbuild, which helps 30 to 40 out-of-school youths earn a high school diploma or GED while participating in affordable housing construction programs throughout the year, has lost $83,000 of its state funding, or roughly 30 percent of its budget. Mediation for Result, which helps resolve tenant-landlord disputes, has seen half of its state funding disappear, and Biomedical Careers Training has had its $140,000 state funding allocation eliminated entirely.

“Every year, 25 to 30 low-income people get jobs in entry-level biotech, and their income goes up an average of $10,000,” said Alice K. Wolf, a state representative for Cambridge and the chief sponsor for the Biomedical Careers Training program. “It’s a wonderful program and I’m very distressed about [the cuts].”

Just-a-Start Executive Director Gordon Gottsche said that the cuts would force Youthbuild to reduce its student body by 10 to 12 students in the near future, and that student stipends for food, transport, and medical care might need to be trimmed as well.

He added that Mediations for Results would see staff time cut by 20 to 30 percent, and that Biomedical Careers Training has already asked its teaching staff to do voluntary rather than paid preparation for classes.

Gottsche said that while Just-a-Start would continue to search vigorously for charitable funding and corporate support—which he said has dropped off dramatically in recent years, despite the use of the Internet—he was not optimistic about its prospects and feared further rounds of cuts.

“We’re hoping there won’t be another cut in February or else we’ll probably lose [Biomedical] altogether,” said Gottsche. He added that additional state cuts would likely lead to staff reductions for Mediation and further reductions in Youthbuild’s student body and services.

SCHOOLS APPROACH

CUTS WITH CAUTION

Cambridge Public Schools will also feel the pinch of the state budget cuts, but the precise ramifications have not yet fully materialized. Among the cuts were reductions to a swath of early and special education programs.

Cambridge was designated to receive $2.7 million for special education—75 percent of its budget. The budget cuts will likely lower this reimbursement rate to 72 percent.

But Cambridge’s fiscally conservative record may help the city dodge the effects of the cuts.

School Committee member Marc C. McGovern said that since the board usually sets its budget based on a 72 percent reimbursement rate, “We may not feel the hit as much as some other communities.”

Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons said she agreed, saying that Cambridge’s “astute fiscal responsibility” has given it some room to maneuver through the crisis. But Simmons, who chairs the school committee, said the schools would not be unaffected.

“Last week, when we had our early budget meeting, one of the messages that the school board was prepared to deliver was that we are not going to be adding any new initiatives,” said Simmons. “We’ll look at the ones we’re currently running to see if they are meeting the needs of students, and if not, if we want to look at reallocation.”

While Simmons emphasized that she was confident that Cambridge would “weather the storm,” she and McGovern also voiced uncertainty about the coming months.

“We don’t know what the full extent of the cuts will be, and there’s been a lot of talk about the state making additional cuts in February,” said McGovern.

“We’re going to be okay, but going forward, we might not have the flexibility that we’ve had in past years. We might have to tighten our belt a little bit.”

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.

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