SCHOOLS AND THE “T” : A TALE OF TWO REFORMS

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^^ New WBUR poll has the “Yes on 2” ballot question losing 48 to 41. Despite being led by Governor baker. Why that is, we discuss in this article.

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Reconfiguration of the state’s mass transit system, the MBTA, is proceeding full force. Costs and the interests of riders and taxpayers now take precedence over systemic inefficiencies and employees’ manipulations. There’s still an operating deficit, and much repair work unfinished, and management procedures remain unrationalized, but the direction is clear now : your public transit system will deliver you a dollar of service for every dollar of revenue.

Some may question the prospect of operational privatization — I question it too; why NOT invest in upgrading the T’s cashroom equipment, for example ? — but the T now has to prove itself to the riding and taxpaying public : and that is what systems that rely on public money¬† MUST do. Never should publicly funded systems be allowed to pursue their own path unquestioned, taken for granted. That they frequently come to ignore the public is because any system you can think of for public monitoring of systems is clumsy. The public can only hold publicly funded systems accountable by electing, or refusing to re-0elecvt, office holders charged with monitoring and budgeting responsibility; yet such elections only happen every two or four years and are usually decided on a banquet of issues in which monitori8ng the T, for example, ois on ly one ingredient and rarely the chiefest.

The only reason that Governor baker has been able, politically, to remake the MBTA is that the entire system failed during Winter 2015 — and failed in a very public way. Baker thus had a free hand to do whatever he thought best, to make the T work again.

It’s sort of a political axiom : when reform of a publicly funded system run by an entrenched work-custom culture is needed, it isn’t likely to happen unless there’s complete, T-type collapse. Example : the fight to reform our taxpayer-funded schools system. A new WBUR poll indicates that the ballot initiative by which limitation on charter school authorization will be lifted is losing : 48 percent say no, only 41 percent say yes. Two months ago the numbers were very different : then it was 53 percent yes, about 35 percent no. Why the change ?

There are two answers. The easier is that the “No” people have manged to convince a majority of voters that expanding the number of charter schools means taking money away from standard public schools. This is a lie easy to refute — if a student moves from standard school to charter school, that’s one less student the standard district needs to budget for; so instead of taking money away from the standard schools, charters actually free up standard schools money for better uses. (of course that does not happen; and why ? Because the unions that control schools hiring, work rules, and even facilities maintenance refuse to downsize their staffs or allow for closing under utilized facilities.)

The more difficult answer to why schools reform may fail, where T reform became unstoppable, is that the standard school system has not collapsed. Though it fails many, especially students of color and immigrants, the majority of school districts do an OK job for most parents and their kids. Thus many voters do not see the problem; but they do know that, in most municipalities, the schools system takes up almost half the tax assessed to them; and they do not want to hear that a reform whose necessity they don’t see may force their taxes higher.

All this would surely change were the standard school systems to collapse as did the T. Absent that failure, it is difficult to see how the entrenched feather bedding, facilities absurdity, and work rule backwardness of many publicly funded schools systems can be reformed. Perhaps the one WBUR poll released toady will be turned by another polling agency’s findings. But as long as the campaign for charter reform sweet-talks the parents of color issue and pussy-foots the cynical self-serving endemic to unreformed school districts, the “Yes on 2” campaign doesn’t get it.

—- 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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