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^ Charlie Baker : meeting the people while trying to decide who to entrust with people’s transportation and Education expectations

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No one has yet been selected to head up the state’s Public Safety, Education, and Transportation portfolios. This should not surprise. They’re the three most difficult departments to succeed at, Education and Transportation hardest of all.

My guess is that the Schools brief will be the next picked. There’s at least a transition team tackling the entirety. For Public Safety and transportation, no such luck. of the two, Transportation looks the harder. The funding isn’t there; who knows if it will be ? Nor has Baker’s team figured out its transportation priorities. That’s no surprise either. Whatever project they want to work on first, supporters of the others will balk.

If Transportation is actually many separate interests, so is Education. Schools look simple at first : we need to close the ‘achievement gap’ and to align our schools with approproate employment. But very quickly as one moves into the issue it’s painfully obvious that “schools” is really several interests, some of which oppose one another, many more of which work at cross purposes. Education’s complexity and internal battling killed the mayoral campaign of John Connolly, who made education his big issue, only to find out that it isn’t one issue at all.

Do we lift the cap on number of allowed charter schools ? Or do we de-emphasize charters and place our emphasis, once again, on stahdard public schools ? If we lift the charter school cap, do we require charters to change their selectivi9ty, codes of discipline, and foreign language student access ?

Do we require a longer school day, and, if so, what curricula should the added school time pursue ?

Do we expand MCAS and PARCC testing, keep tests at current levels, or de-emphasize them ?

Do we require our state’s pumped-up version of Common Core curriculum stahdards, or do we teach to another curriculum standard ?

How do we apply the anti-bullying law without over-managing school society ? What degree of free expression do we allow to students, and in which grades ?

How do we transport kids to school ? In Boston, the supeeintendent’s decsion to use public trsnit to get 7th and 8th grade kids to school aroused major opposition.

How do we make higher education more affordable ? Do we allow undocumented immigrant kids the same in-state tuition accorded to other kids ? If not, why not ?

I cannot see any of these major school issues being resolved uickly or without political cost to Baker. Yet resolving most of them is vital to his goals of closing the “achievement gap” and of assuring that schooling readies kids for actual employment. Whomever Baker appoints Commissioner of Education need only look at current commissioner Mitchell Chester’s difficulties and frustrations, decisions reversed, others mistaken.

Lastly : will the new Education Commissioner be someone from high school or grade school background, or a higher eduaction name ? Whichever direction Baker chooses, the other may feel itself second-placed.

And now for Transportation. Where do we apply first ? The MBTA, which needs better cars, new tracks and signalling, lines extended (and these, soon), and stronger pension mangement ? Or do we rebuild our bridges — thinking especially about bridges now that Boston has had to close down the Northern Avenue and Long island bridges because they’re dangerously deficient — and fix roadways ? In this regard I think especially of the white-paint lane dividers which, on many highways, haven’t been repainted in years and can’t be seen any longer at night — a very dangerous proposition.

Can we actually build the long-awaited South coast rail line, currently sidelined by state and Federal environmental impact studies ? What status do we accord bicycle traffic, which is increasing rapidly in the big cities ? How will the state’s alternative energy interests, who seek an end to use of fossil fuels, affect future road and transit planning ?

The proposed Boston 2024 Olympics will require significant changes in Boston’s transit lineage and scheduling. Do we have the fubnds to accomplish therse changes ? Lastly, can the legislature enact — would Governor Baker sign — any kind of transportation tax to replace the gas tax index that waas voted out by a November referendum ?

I do not envy the person who gets handed Baker’s transportation portfolio. The “DOT” is a varsity-grade agency, stafed by dedicated, knowledgeable, savvy people. How do we best use the smart people who oversee our state’s transportation systems ? I am waiting to see who it will be and how he or she intends to do the job.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere