MOVING BOSTON SCHOOLS FORWARD

A city-wide schools recreation: will it work ? Will it even matter in the long run ? One wonders.

Pardon me if I have borrowed Governor baker’s “moving Massachusetts forward” rubric for another purpose, the recreation of Boston’s outmoded, wasteful schools administration. I find the borrow useful, however, because it looks as though Marty Walsh is finally committing to promises he made way back during his 2013 Mayor campaign : to rebuild the city’s ancient school facilities and to streamline its equally obsolete equipage. I write “looks as though” because I remain a bit skeptical that hew ill see this agenda through to completion, or that he will be allowed to do so. Opposition to it remains a force. There’s plenty of folks who like the present inefficiencies and who would prefer the system to become even more wasteful.

You can read the entire “BuildBPS Master Plan” at this link — https://www.bostonpublicschools.org/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=14&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=22438&PageID=1– but before you do, consider this quote from the school administration’s webpage :
The proposed second phase of the BuildBPS plan aims to expand equitable access to quality schools and programs, while also reducing the number of times students transition into different schools, which create more stable and predictable pathways for students and families. To do this, the plan proposes the construction, renovation or major transformation of 12 schools, to be completed or in progress by 2027.

The guiding principles of the plan include those factors, along with addressing enrollment challenges to meet student needs, and creating equitable access to programming for vulnerable populations. The second phase builds off the work outlined in the first comprehensive BuildBPS report, released in March 2017, which offered a comprehensive scope of the school building conditions, including that 65 percent of Boston’s 125 schools were built before World War II, and how to bring these school buildings into the 21st century.

As the core decision here is to consolidate 125 often ancient, more often under-utilized school buildings into 90 much more compact and efficiently outfitted schools — a decision that Walsh had already talked about in that 2013 campaign — you can easily read that the extra words, the calming pronunciations in which this core is couched are there to f luff the opposition. There’s plenty of it. Advocacy groups that have objected all along to the slightest retrenchment in schools inefficiency — which want more money allocated, not less; indeed,. advocates who deny there is inefficiency in the budget — object not only to budget discipline but to the consolidation of those 125 schools into 90. They object to closing any school, no matter how under-attended. Their view is that any consolidation and efficiency plan is a back door route to privatization of the schools system and to charter schools, which these advocates view as evil manipulators of gullible parents and vulnerable students. All manner of accusations have been poked, like angry pool cues, into the stomachs of charter school plans, as proponents of inefficient standard schools seek to make permanent the way things already are. It’s no wonder, then, that Walsh’s BuildBPS language contains six ice cream words for every one that tastes like castor oil.

Yet for now, Walsh seems to have the upper hand. Many of consolidation’s opponents supported Tito Jackson’s embarrassingly weak 2017 Mayoral campaign. All they succeeded in doing was demonstrating how clearly Walsh can move forward popularly despite them. Walsh’s confidence was shown when he refused to reappoint to the School Committee the one member who did not vote yes to approve phase two of the BuildBPS plan.

How much money will BuildBPS’s consolidation save ? We will soon find out, perhaps, when the FY 2020 Schools Budget is presented to the School Committee next month. How much will modernization of classroom,s save ? that too we may well put a number to once the new annual budget is known. I would now like, however, to address a different subject, one which Walsh has yet to mention but upon which consolidation and modernization represent huge fiscal bets : will the 100,000 new Bostonians who have arrived since 2000 or are expected here by 2030 make use of these newly configured schools ?

Present student enrollment pegs at about 54,000 students. 40 years ago the number was about 92,000. That’s the capacity our present facilities were built to serve. 100,000 new Bostonians have the potential to fill our schools to capacity again. Will they ? I highly doubt it. A great many of the 100,000 are young singles who have no kids. Many of the others earn well above the City’s mean income and can afford to send their kids to private schools, or to home-schooling. We’ve seen how high-earners will stop at nothing, and for whom price is no object, in order to get their kids into the best, highest-performing schools. In large part, Boston’s public schools do not fit that description. I easily imagine the new 100,000 funding private schools already existing and founding new ones if they have to.

It’s hard not to see Boston’s shiny new efficiency schools attracting almost only those who have no other options, chiefly people of lesser incomes, who lack political power anyway and certainly lack it when it comes to taxpayer-funded systems. My sense tells me that the Boston Teachers Union, powerful and brilliantly led as it now is, will have to fight every inch of the way to obtain pay rates satisfactory to the best teachers and to fund advancement programs that will give kids from lower-income families a fighting chance at major college admission. BPS will become less and less crucial to the population mix of Boston in 2030. If current trends continue, Boston in 2030 — and 2040 — will be even richer than it is today, a city in which more people earn $ 150,000 to $ 250,000 a year than who earn less than the current $ 62,000 median. It’s not hard to imagine the City;’s taxpayer-funded schools of 2030 and 2040 relying on state aid and even more upon charitable donations. Perhaps, indeed, it will benefit the city;’s lower-ibcome kids of 20 to 30 years from now if the City’s schools were to beceome non-profits funded chiefly by charitable money. At least that would be Boston reality, whereas the current system is already to a large extent unreal.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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