Published On: November 6, 2010

What’s going on?

The superintendent’s plan to ask school committee members to approve her plan to close or merge six Boston schools tonight was withdrawn “€” for now “€” two days ago. The plan will be resubmitted to the go-along-to-get-along school committee for a vote (most likely on Wednesday December 8) as part of a larger, more ambitious school closing plan. Why did this happen? There are many reasons from a variety of quarters.

Ill-Conceived Closing Plan Meets Resistance

Emerson students Protest ClosingThe superintendent is facing a lot of pressure that has resulted in this sudden shift.

On the one hand, the original school-closing plan was ill-conceived and drew pressure and resistance from the school community “€” staff, students, and parents. Under the plan, students from schools that had not been labeled underperforming would have been sent to schools that had been labeled under performing. And students from the highest scoring ELL program (Hyde Park’s CASH) would have been dispersed.

The plan met resistance at a series of community meetings, culminating last week at English High School. So the superintendent made a few minor revisions before the English High meeting, but the revisions did not stop 600 people from voicing their anger. The feelings of discontent and frustration were sufficient to provoke some school committee members to signal that they felt uncomfortable (embarrassed might be a better description) voting on the plan tonight. So the superintendent withdrew the majority of her plan, and tonight’s meeting is slated to approve only the creation of the two in-district charter schools.

At first blush, it may appear that this delay is a good thing, but keep in mind that many school committee members have publicly stated that the school closing plan does not go far enough. The Globe has opined similarly, as has Sam Tyler from the Boston Municipal Bureau and some members of the business community.

In fact, the superintendent said that she would likely come back with a more ambitious school closing proposal: “We originally planned to ask the School Committee to vote on our entire redesign proposal this Wednesday, November 3 at English High School….we will return to the Committee with a larger set of recommendations in December.”

The Globe weighed in as well: “Boston can’t afford to keep dozens of small, inefficient schools in operation while it faces a roughly $60 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.”

So here’s where we are and here’s what to expect:

Tonight the school committee will vote to approve the UP Academy’s takeover at the Gavin. The vote will predictably be unanimous. School Committee votes are always unanimous. UP Academy was given a no-bid contract by the school committee, and it will open up as an in-district charter school next September.

As an important aside, the school department has promised that all current Gavin students will be guaranteed a seat at the new charter school. UP has not gone that far, and has said that the students have to apply to stay in the building. The application, while simple, is still an obstacle to many. All eyes will be watching to see how this plays out.

More School Closings to Be Added; Decision to be Made on Economics not Education

Shortly the superintendent will announce a new set of recommendations and set up another series of community meetings. New schools will be added to the school closing list. The new plan will make no more sense than the last plan. Here’s why: There is no educational basis to close these schools.

The school department has already invested millions in turning around the so-called worst performers. What’s more, the federal government has given upwards of $40 million to the same cause. Those schools need time to improve. They will not be touched. The schools that will be touched have already demonstrated success “€” they were not on the original list of so-called under performing schools. So what justification, therefore, can now be used to close them? The justification cannot be educational.

Besides, small schools work. On the secondary level, the department has spent millions on breaking down larger schools into small schools. Does the department now have research that says these small schools at Hyde Park (or West Roxbury, South Boston) do not work? Assuredly, the department does not.

Look Elsewhere for Savings. Why Not at the Testing Budget?

The issue is money, and always has been money. If the department wants to focus on savings, let’s look at the entire budget, not just the school piece, where services are delivered. Let’s look at the tens of millions wasted on testing and predictive testing.  Better yet, let’s have an open and honest dialogue of where and how the department can save money. To take money and resources from direct services ought to be the last “€” not the first “€” place the superintendent looks to save dollars.

The vote tonight to allow an outside entity to charterize a school on a no-bid contract, and the vote next month to close or merge other Boston schools concern all of us, whether our schools are on the closing list or not. We are all impacted by these decisions. Please lend your voice to those directly affected, join in with our colleagues and friends as we fight against this unjust and educationally unsound plan, however it evolves.

Thank you.


Richard Stutman
Boston Teachers Union

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