BOSTON SCHOOLS : REFORM MOVES FORWARD THROUGH THE BERMS

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^ street theater at City Hall & Faneuil  : the “$ 61 million” BPS parents’ bake sale yesterday

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As just about everyone knows who is involved in it, moving the Boston Public School system forward is almost a combat challenge. Berms galore face the advancing warriors ; severely decreased Federal funding; unfunded State mandates; administrative change, including to staffing and work rules; figuring out a workable relationship between charter schools and “standard schools”; layoffs; teacher salaries. Doubtless I have left out many more.

That said, the army of school reform Is moving forward. Some even of the opponents of reform are actually assisting it by highlighting the difficulties. One such highlight took place yesterday, at the back of Boston City Hall, across the street from Faneuil Hall : a school parents’ “$ 61 million” bake sale.

The $ 61,000,000 they refer to is, as they see it, the dollar amount by which the Boston School department’s FY 2015 budget falls short of what is needed. Superintendent John McDonough agrees that the new school budget has “at the end of the day…only so much revenue,” as he put it at the March 26th Budget hearing. Whether McDonough concurs that the shortfall amounts to $ 61 million, I do not know; there is no disagreement, however, that the budget foes come up short. as McDonough put it, “trade offs” were needed. The trade-offs included eliminating abort 200 position : 100 of them from central school department administration, another 100 or so from the staffs of individual schools.

Hard hit was the Mary Curley K to 8 school in Jamaica Plain ; a school that has, since the late 1970s, occupied a central place in Jamaica Plain’s re-invention as a gentrified neighborhood. Parents of Curley School children cite losing a coach, support personnel, and a school nurse. Other parents, with children at other schools on Boston’s western edge, report the same.

it may well be that McDonough chose to layoff staff in these schools rather than in poorer neighborhoods because he knew that Curley parents would organize and protest loudly, and that those responsible for cutting Federal and state school funding would hear ; and that their protests would matter more to these officials than if he himself were making them. McDonough is as shrewd as they come, and I find nothing that he does to be without well placed purpose. In this case, if his intent is as I suggest, he has planned well indeed.

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^ shrewdest guy in Boston : School Superintendent John McDonough at the “$ 61 million” bake sale

The bake sale drew at least four City Councillors, several Boston teachers, and much media attention. Less attention has been paid to what McDonough has done to school administration. He has made major moves, chiefest of which is to give every Boston school principal full authority to choose every teacher and staff at the school of which he is principal; and to do so by early hiring, when the best teachers are still on offer, and to count diversity as a criterion. The effect on future teacher union work rules can only be revolutionary.

Mayor Walsh, too, has made school improvement moves. his new appointees to the School Committee both voted for McDonough’s propos;las (which were adopted unanimously); and today, at the City Councils’ FY 2015 Budget Hearing, orders presented by the Mayor were adopted unanimously, as follows:

Order # 0637, to borrow $ 72,848,295 for constructing the Dearborn 6-12 STEM/Early college Academy, on Dearborn Street in the Cape Verdean part of Boston : the City’s first new school building in many, many years.

Orders # 0588 through 0593, statements of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, for six more new projects, in West Roxbury, South boston, Jamaica Plain , East Boston, Hyde Park, and the South End.

It would he hard to make a case that thee projects are moving forward without an accompanying commitment by the mayor and City to set these new schools up in any way but under the McDonough reforms.

Now all that is needed is for the State and Federal governments to do their part in funding the goal that McDonough states best : “this isn’t about charter schools or standard schools. It;s about making all schools better. we must cloze the achievement gap.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE 11.30 PM 04/09/14  : Mary Tamer, who was a Boston School Committeewoman until her term ended on January 5th, questions the viability of the Dearborn STEM project — citing what she calls the “poor results” at the current Dearborn as a turnaround school — and also some other school moves being made around the City. Tamer asks how the City justifies the Dearborn project. It’s a good question deserving an answer that was not given at today’s Council hearing.

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

1 thought on “BOSTON SCHOOLS : REFORM MOVES FORWARD THROUGH THE BERMS”

  1. Thanks for the story. Yes, the deficit is $61M partly because this year’s dollars can’t afford next year’s services, and because the state and Feds are walking away from their own legal obligations. Two quick clarification. The Curley K8 is losing 12 people next year, teachers, paras and support staff, so the school will have to do more with less. That is after losing $1.4m and 18 other positions while gaining 187 students over 4 past years. The Super can’t target schools for cuts because the funding doesn’t work like that. 63 of 119 schools are losing funding, but when you factor in state and federal losses and cost increases the figure is probably closer to 90. These cuts are everywhere, poor neighborhood and more affluent alike. Those schools not cut are just treading water, trying to stay afloat. Parents from across the city are after all trying to get back to funding levels that are only pathetic now, not pathetic and diabolical as they will be next year. One other quick thing, the Curley may be in a gentrifying part of JP, but our kids are from everywhere. It’s a 68.5% low income student body, and most other parents are of very modest means.

    Thanks for the story, and was great to meet you yesterday! Good to also see you tweet at City Council today.

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