The “go along to get along” appointed Boston School Committee voted unanimously last week to approve the Superintendent’s plan to close or merge more than a dozen schools. A full list of approved changes can be seen here.
The net result? Hundreds of staff and thousands of students will move to similarly-performing schools that have so-called excess capacity.
The closings will bring disruption and uncertainty at a time when the district needs stability and predictability. With the expansion of charter schools on the horizon, the last thing the district needs to do is give parents and students a reason to leave the system. (See section below, “Education in the News.” for what happened in Chicago to student progress in schools targeted for closing)
The series of hearings leading to the unanimous School Committee vote fueled a lot of frustration among school communities. Each of the School Committee meetings were held before a standing room only crowd of no less than 400-500 attendees. Parents, students and staff sat “ or stood “ through close to 16 hours of testimony over the last two months in anticipation of getting real and accurate answers to our questions.
Specifically people asked: What guarantee do our children have of gaining entrance into a school that performed as well – or better – than their current one? And why would the school board – interested in promoting best school practices – close a school that was making progress and had the confidence of parents, students and staff?
Parents, teachers and students received few straight answers. Instead, attendees received the same generic reply: first, that the budget required cuts; and second, there were 5,000 or so ’empty seats.’ Neither answer provides a ‘whole picture’ approach.
On the issue of the budget: Yes, money is tight. But there has been no process for anyone to examine the budget to see where there might be savings. We are left to take their word on how best to realize savings. Further, we are left to ask whether school leaders sought an appropriate increase in school funding to cover needed costs.
On ‘excess capacity’… after hearing over and over that there are 5,000 surplus seats, one might tend to think that there are vacant spaces and seats throughout our school buildings just waiting to be filled. Here’s the real picture.
There are vacant seats which could hold a few thousand more children. So you can walk into a school and see one classroom with 28 students instead of 31. That’s 3 empty seats. Another with 21 instead of 25 – that’s another 4. And so on.
But the same school can have the auditorium doing double duty as a gymnasium; the psychologist sharing space with someone else in the back in one crevice of a poorly-lit hallway; and the art teacher moving a cart from room to room six times per day. Officially, even though that school is lacking two or three needed classrooms, four office spaces, and a gymnasium, it can have dozens of empty seats that contribute to the city’s estimate of 5,000.
So the definition of ‘surplus’ or ‘excess’ capacity is misleading. And to close schools based on that definition “ while denying schools space they need to properly function “ is faulty and damaging.
Staff Assignment Rights
Staff at each affected school should have by now received a letter from the BTU. BTU officers and staff will be out shortly to discuss teacher and para assignment rights.