THE BAKER REFORMS : WHERE THEY STAND NOW

CB reform

^ top to bottom DCF reform : Governor Baker vows it — and is doing it

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Governor Baker has initiated four major reforms : fixing the MBTA and Commuter Rail; restructuring DCF; changing opioid addiction from a matter criminal to a health and wellness mission; and expanding the state’s number of allowed charter schools. For most governors, this would pursue pie in sky; for Baker, it actually seems doable.

Where do his four big reforms stand, now, in the eleventh month of his governorship ? Let us examine.

( 1 ) Fixing the MBTA and Commuter Rail : new tracks have been laid, snow fences built, switch heaters put in place, 20 new track plows procured. Train on time performance metrics now monitor train trips. Late night and low-rider bus trips have been outsourced to providers capable of handling them cost-effectively. The MBTA employees’ pension trust is being integrated into the State Employees retirement system. Commuter Rail non-performance fines now allocate the hiring of additional staff to improve fare collection. A Fiscal Control Board, appointed by the Governor and answerable directly to him, now directs day-to-day operations of trains, buses, and dollars.

Trains still run late thanks often to equipment failure, and bus trips are still missed, but the former will look better once new trains on order actually arrive, and the latter will look better as employee morale rises — which it is doing.

As for Green Line expansion through Somerville to West Medford, it continues despite some worry, a few months back, about unaffordable cost overruns. (Will we get a Silver Line connection from East Boston to the airport, to match Silver Line expansion to Chelsea ? maybe. There’s even a Red Line to Blue Line Connector being bruited, probably a foot tunnel from Aquarium to South Station paralleling the Central Artery. So far, Baker hasn’t said what he plans for these proposals.)

( 2 ) restructuring DCF : the Governor and DCF social worker unions have agreed upon new work rules incorporating new case valuation tactics; less burdensome case loads; start of the art communications devices; background checks for all foster home applicants; and rigorous monitoring of all DCF cases, including those that have been closed but might re-open. According to major media, worker morale has improved substantially; workers cite renewed faith that reform will actually occur, not merely be talked about.

Baker has not merely announced DCF reforms. He has followed up, again and again, to assure that his reforms become fact on the ground and that DCF social workers understand and accept his reforms. This was how he manged Harvard Pilgrim’s recovery from bankruptcy to excellence. Persistence and attention to detail at every level of work was his method. He has applied it to DCF with what looks like success.

Here’s a link to baker’s vow for comprehensive DCF reform : http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_politics/2015/11/charlie_baker_vows_end_to_end_dcf_reform

( 3 ) opioid addiction crisis : Baker has proposed legislation that embraces the axiom that addiction is a matter of health, not criminality. He has filed legislation to that end. It contains several controversial features. Sources in the legislature tell me that Baker will get some of what he wants but not all. Baker’s call for involuntary hospital commitment of addicts is not liked by many in the medical and hospital field; it’s also seen as unconstitutional by some. There’s less objection to his call for opioid prescriptions to be limited to a 72-hour dose.

The addiction and recovery communit6y is divided on the issue of involuntary commitment. Some like it; some feel it’s too aggressive. It would not surprise me if the legislature defers to enact it.

That said, baker has been dogged in amassing support for his opioid legislation, from sheriffs to police chiefs, medical students and medical schools. Boston Mayor Walsh — a recovering alcoholic — supports it, and Attorney General Maura Healey  has made the opioid epidemic a major concern of her office. Even if baker does not get all of what he wants, every policy person in the state is now talking about the opioid epidemic and doing so as a health issue.

( 4 ) lifting the current limitation on number of allowed charter schools : of all baker’s reforms, this faces the largest opposition. Against it stand teachers’ unions, allied parents’ groups, and many municipal school committees. Baker’s bill calls for the creation of 12 new charter schools each year, for an unspecified period of years, said schools to be allocated to school districts falling in the bottom 25 percent of school districts, as determined by the State’s Education Commissioner. Baker’s bill also requires that new charter schools give specific attention to English language learners (ELL), whose needs are seen as insufficiently met by the state’s current charters.

Baker’s bill is likely to not be enacted, as it is opposed not only by teacher unions and allies but also  by Boston Mayor Walsh, who has his own charter school proposal. Walsh’s proposal would not take place for several years — until after his ten-year, $ 1 billion capital spending school construction plan takes hold. It also calls for an additional $ 55 million in state funding (via MGL c. 70, by which school districts are compensated for the funds reallocated to its charter schools).

(Some say that Walsh’s capital spending plan is actually a ploy to change the Boston school system to a mostly charter system. That’s enormously unlikely given the legislation’s limitations. They also say he intends to turn over operation of Boston schools to the Gates Foundation. That would be an interesting development, but it certainly isn’t happening in  the near future.)

Walsh’s opposition is supported by an organization that calls itself “Democrats for Education Reform,” a group that backed his opponent in the 2013 mayor campaign and which led opposition to Walsh’s hopes to bring the 2024 Olympic games to Boston. I see no sign that Walsh cares at all what “DFER” does or does not do, but to the extent that legislators feel pulled from both sides on how to vote on Baker’s bill, the “DFER:” opposition adds a bit to those who want a “Nay” vote.

Still, that Baker’s charter cap lift bill may not pass — as last year’;s charter cap lift bill also did not — does not mean that charter school expansion will not happen. A ballot initiative to expand the number of charters, largely funded by the Gates Foundation with help from the Walton Foundation  (of WalMart), has gathered large support from parents in under performing school; districts. Those parents and their allies have rallied and organize behind the initiative, and its message will be well funded. baker also supports the initiative, openly, enthusiastically.

Opponents rail at the prospect of “corporations meddling” in education. This view falls flat. We educate children for citizenship and for employment.”Corporations” have an enormous vested interest in having job applicants ready on day one to perform at least entry level jobs; the lack thereof has been, and continues to be, a major obstacle to expansion of the technology economy. Today in Massachusetts numerous non-profits exist with a mission to do “bridge education” giving high school graduates the skills they need to secure entry level work. These non-profits (such as : Year UP, College Bound, Bottom Line) do magnificent work; but why must students who have graduated from high school need to defer work for a year or two, when in an effective education set up they would already have the needed entry skills upon graduating ?

Such is the argument shaping up as the ballot initiative takes shape. The Governor stands on the side of mostly inner-city and minority group parents.

On the other side, far fewer people, but almost all teacher unions. I see this as a shame. Teachers should be the first to advocate the most effective, innovative education platforms feasible.  After all, schools exist to educate children. Teachers are hired and paid to perform that mission, as the voters and taxpayers define it and command it. Why should teachers have power to dictate what structures education adopts any more than IRS employees, for example, should be able to dictate how and why the IRS is set up ? It is up to the voters and their elected officials to determine policy and structure, and up to those hired to carry it out to — carry it out.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

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.

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