^ ambushed by teacher union enemies : Mayor Walsh responded to a rather absurd — but believed — charge that he is planning to close 36 schools in Boston and hand them over to charter schools

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A recent non-event in Boston City budgeting has created a two hour hurricane of controversy. How this came to be is itself a story, and I will get to that; but first, the non-story :

Mayor Walsh announced, about six weeks ago, that he was committing $ 1 billion to constructing new school facilities in the City. The funds would come from the City’s Capital Budget and be allocated over a ten-year period. The plan calls for the closing of a substantial number of very old school buildings as well as the construction of new ones, and the reasoning in the plan is simple : the cost of construction, and of maintaining the new schools, is far, far less than that of renovating the City’s very old, energy inefficient, poorly equipped school antiquities. Getting the $ 1 billion capital plan built would free up many, many millions of school expense for more important school-budget items : bus transportation, better school lunches, classroom equipment and supplies — the lack of all of which has rightly aroused much outcry from school parents.

I say that this $ 1 billion plan is a non event because that’s what it is. Every feature of the Mayor’s plan did he cite, over and over again, at many Forums during his 2013 Mayor campaign.

Another feature of Mayor Walsh’s school plan aroused controversy : the involvement of the Gates Foundation in purposing the new schools. This too, is not news. Walsh advocated in Forum after Forum during 2013 his intention to involve corporate partners in the operation and oversight of Boston’s schools. In that campaign he did not name the business entities he would seek to involve. Perhaps that is why his talk went unheard by  those who now find it controversial; because in the world of school politics the Gates Foundation has become the demon of some, the hero of others.

You may be asking why this is so. Answering that puzzle begins with your reading the Gates Foundation’s education initiative. The link is here :

In the Gates Plan is a host of policies that certain interests bitterly oppose. These object to (1) having a corporation or private foundation setting policy for tax[payer-funded schools (2) evaluation of teachers according to performance (3) advocacy of the Common Core curriculum standard established 20-odd years ago by the nation’s then 50 state Governors (4) innovation, including digital and online instruction (5) partnering with colleges and universities.

In Boston, the teacher’s union and its allied parents not only object to having a private foundation setting school policy — that has been its stance ever since the Gates plan was first published — but also see the parallel move to increase the number of charter schools, presented by Governor Baker as new legislation, as the ultimate objective of Gates plan supporters — including Mayor Walsh. So what did the teacher and parent ally groups do ? They conflated the two initiatives. The cry grew that the Mayor’s new school construction plan was a ploy to turn Boston public schools into charter schools. An article published in Esquire explicitly claimed so, begetting the outcry that fevered social media.

The burn took heat from another Boston schools move recently begun : “unified school enrollment.” Hitherto, parents seeking to get their children into a Boston charter school entered a lottery, separate from the school choice process for standard public schools. Now the City’s school department seeks to have the charter lottery incorporated into the school choice selection process. This move was dubbed a means for implanting new charter schools.

Social media went ballistic as teacher union activists called Walsh “one term mayor” and worse.

Yet the claim itself was easy to blow up.

First: Governor Baker’s legislation calls for allowing up to 12 new charter schools every year allotted exclusively to school districts designated as :”under performing.” If a school district is not so classified (by the State Commissioner of Education), it gets no additional; charter schools.

Second : Not all of the 12 new charter schools permitted would be given to Boston even if Boston were designated under performing. The school districts most likely to be awarded new charter schools are Lawrence, Holyoke, and Springfield.

Third : allowing up to 12 new charter schools does not mean they would all receive state certification.

Fourth : Baker’s bill does not mean 12 new charter schools every year forever. How could it, when it allows new charters only in districts designated as under performing Keep in mind that Massachusetts school districts as a whole rate very high compared to those in other states.

Fifth : Mayor Walsh actually opposes Baker’s charter expansion bill. At a recent hearing, Walsh testified that though he favors charter cap lift, he does not do so at this time; he also demanded that the State provide the City an additional $ 55 million in school budget aid. The Mayor’s opposition puts a serious obstacle in the way of passage of Baker’s legislation.

All of the above make clear that the caper, by teacher union activists and allies to create a narrative demonstrably false was justly and property blown away by the following statement of categorical denial by Mayor Walsh within two hours of the claim going viral on social media :

“The Mayor has never said, nor does he have a plan to close 36 schools. Mayor Walsh has proven his dedication to Boston Public Schools by, in the past year alone, providing unprecedented budgetary support, extending learning time for students, adding 200 pre-kindergarten seats to the district, and hiring a first-class Superintendent. The Mayor also launched a multi-year Educational and Facilities Master Plan this fall to guide smart investments in Boston’s schools with the goal of providing all students with a high-quality, 21st-century education.  

Here now is the Mayor’s 10 year capital plan in full as presented on City of Boston website :

BOSTON – Tuesday, September 29, 2015 – Mayor Martin J. Walsh today launched Build BPS, a 10-Year Educational and Facilities Master Plan for Boston Public Schools (BPS) that will provide a strategic framework for facilities investments, as well as reform that is aligned with the Mayor’s vision of fostering exemplary teaching in a world-class system of innovative, welcoming schools.

“The most important investment we can make is in our young people, and we do that by supporting their education and making sure they have the best opportunities and learning facilities available to them,” said Mayor Walsh. “This master plan will ensure that Boston’s schools are equipping students with the education, skills and facilities needed to meet the standards of 21st century learning.”  

Over the next 18 months, the Mayor’s Education Cabinet and BPS will work with consultantSymmes, Maini & McKee Associates (SMMA) to develop a comprehensive set of recommendations that will be submitted to Mayor Walsh, Superintendent Tommy Chang and the Boston School Committee by the end of 2016. 

“The world around us is changing at a staggering pace; and over the next 10 years, there will be many more innovations that will change the way we live and learn,” said Superintendent Tommy Chang. “Learning and instruction are changing, too, as we prepare our students to thrive in this advancing world. That also means that our school buildings and classrooms need updating to respond to the accelerating rate of innovation and meet the demands of 21st century learning.”

The work of SMMA will be in partnership with BPS, the Mayor’s Education Cabinet, and several City agencies, including Property and Construction Management, Environment, Energy and Open Space, Neighborhood Services, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, in consultation with designer and project manager Margaret Wood of Pinck & Co.

“To be successful, we are all going to need to collaborate – district central office, school leaders, teachers, students, parents, business, higher education, community leaders, and government officials,” said Chief of Education Rahn Dorsey. “We are confident that with the help of all city stakeholders, we will create a vision for 21st century learning in Boston – and build the infrastructure that supports our collective ambitions.”  

The planning process for Build BPS will include the following components:

  • Demographics, Capacity and Utilization Analysis to better understand student populations today, and evaluate the trajectory of student success rates in the future (beginning October 2015);
  • Community Engagement to ensure that there is community input from Boston families, students and educators in creating a long-term vision for public education and the function and use of buildings (beginning November 2015);
  • Educational Programming to develop a vision and principles for 21st century instruction and learning for all of Boston’s public schools (beginning November 2015);
  • Financial Planning and Funding to develop a set of investment recommendations for long-term building maintenance, modernization and the development of new schools, as needed (beginning October 2015);
  • Facility Conditions Assessment to assess BPS’ 128 school buildings and maximize the potential uses in infrastructure (beginning Summer 2016).

For the latest schedule and more information, please visit: To join the conversation and provide feedback, residents are encouraged to use #BuildBPS via social media platforms.   ###

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The writer of the Esquire article that convulsed social media in Boston yesterday (disclosure : he’s a former Boston Phoenix colleague of mine) then issued an affirmation which included the following : “Among those records was an agenda for a meeting between the Boston Compact and Mayor Walsh and a Boston Compact talking points memo prepared for the Mayor in which the Mayor is scripted to announce and define Enroll Boston.

“Enroll Boston.” Yes.  As I said above, the association that the writer claims is trying to sneak new charter schools into Boston (by magic ? certainly not according to any law existing or filed) is in fact charged with establishing “unified enrollment.” Nor was any Freedom of Information Act order needed to learn this. Its the topic of several meetings being held around the City to explain “unified enrollment” to parents and to get their feedback.

So much for the world of political dispute in today’s America. Evidently it is now the rule to do what the doctorers of planned Parenthood videos did to that organization. Misstate, conflate, say a-HA ! and then let loose a word fart on social media where the disputers are ready to believe the worst of each other and thus lend credence to ambushes and concoctions.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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