^ in charge and making his plans a reality : Governor Baker visits Keolis’s Commuter Rail system in Ashland

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Nothing in political life better exemplifies the limits of the possible than the present situations of two major public service systems: the MBTA and Public Schools. The MBTA has moved from hopeless bog down to innovation and re-thinking; meanwhile, our public schools have rejected innovation in favor of the tried and not always so true.

Let us examine the difference.

At stake are millions — billions — of taxpayer dollars as well as effective service, or not so effective to the public of which the taxpayers form a major segment.

The MBTA was able to be radically reformed because (1) in the winter of 2015 it crashed, for all to see and deplore and (2) a new Governor took office dedicated to making taxpayer paid services as effective as feasible and within budget. Governor Baker had his opportunity, because the entire public had had enough of the T’s profligate incompetence. The outcry prodded the legislature into granting baker an almost free hand to shape the T as he saw fit; and he has done so, and now here we are:

( 1 ) the T’s support operations — parts ,management, warehousing, and cash counting — have been outsourced to contractors, at substantial cost savings

( 2 ) a new Carmen’s Union contract has been negotiated in which tbe outsourcing decisions have been accepted as well as job movement of union employees from one operation to another, a flexibility previously barred by work rules

( 3 ) Keolis, the contract operator of the T’s Commuter Rail division faces compertritio0n for the operating contract that ends in 2022, and the shape of the new contract is up for rethinking as well. In that regard, read this article in which is discussed Governor Baker’s plan to let Keolis’s current contract exp[ire :

( 4 ) the T’s Fiscal Control Board has taken over every aspect of T operation decisions, and it has made budget efficiency a top priority

( 5 ) new Red Line and Orange Line cars arrive, finally, in 2018 and 2019, putting an end to the down time these lines’ 40-year old cars constantly suffer

( 6 ) wi-fi may even be made available in the new cars.

The new MBTA that will be almost completely re-configured by year 2022 will actually be able to meet the transportatio0n needs of Boston area commuters and do so within budget, with an employee system and budget account oversight process that taxpayers and riders can monitor and opine about. The New T won’t likely surpass the effectiveness of other cities’ public transit operations, but it will achieve at least the norm, maybe better. That is n enormous change from a 2012 T that rated among the worst in almost every measure of performance.

And now to our public schools. attempts have been made to impose innovation methods and purposes on public school operations, but they have all failed, because the schools, while often under-performing, and often wastefully budgeted, have not universally crashed as did the T in 2015. Thus the voting public has not lost all confidence in the present system, nor have local school committees. The defeat of the 2016 ballot initiative seeking to expand the number of allowed charter schools looks quite defihn9ituive; henceforth, for the forseeable future, school operation will be in the hands of teachers unions and the school committees that they control. Which means that nothing will change: not work rules, not school day length, not experiment, not merit hiring and job evaluation by principals. And not the capture of budgets by those with a vested interest in their allocation — in Boston, 86 percent of it to staff salaries.

Yet this decision, to continue the current school operation, flies in the face of huge economic and social change. Taxpayers are called to pay for public education, and they usually do so willingly, because educating our society’s children is crucial for their employment and their ability to be citizens. Unfortunately, education for employment is not a matter of schooling kids as we want to, but of preparing them to perform the actual jobs that they will apply for or be recruited to do. Those jobs are changing all the time, and their skills requirements. My own view is that today’s teachers should be young, the younger the better, and as up to date in their tech skills as feasible : but tenure rules work the opposite. (It is scandalous that so many Boston school graduates need to attend self-help and non profit programs like College Bound, Bottom Line, and Year Up in order to get skills preparation that they ought have acquired in high school.)

Long time teaching works fine for educating kids to citizenship, because the moral and political duties of a citizen do not change; but most of education today must be skills education, and there, long teaching, unless constantly updated, defeats the objective. By the vote taken last November, Massachusetts taxpayers decided that such imperatives mattered less than the continuation of the present system.

Ironically, the charter school cap lift defeat may work for us after all. The incoming President, Mr. Trump, seeks to place in charge of the Federal Department of Education a woman, Betsy DeVos, who seems a sworn enemy of taxpayer-paid education and also prefers that charter schools be for profit (in Massachusetts charters are almost all non-profit). I greatly dislike for profit schooling. It succumbs to all manner of fraud, diversion, and advertising gimmicks. Given the seeming priorities of Mr. Trfump’s Education nominee, we the taxpayer may well want the hard line unionists who defeated last year’s charter cap initiative to pit their stubbornness against Mr. Trump’s education overreach.

But I’m not exactly happy that we need to fight education battles that shouldn’t even be upon us. Education, like the T, should reconfigure for an age of innovation and dversity.

Oh well.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



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