SCHOOLS REFORM : A TON OF DISCONNECT

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^ recess at the Charles Sumner School on Basile Street in Roslindale

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An article in today’s Boston Globe discusses the $ 1 billion gap between two schools funding bills currently before the legislature. The so-called “Promise Act,” backed by a coalition of public school advocacy groups with support from Mayor Marty Walsh, seeks $ 2.4 billion, over seven years, in additional state funds. Governor Baker’s bill requests $ 1.5 billion over the same seven years. You should now read the article here : https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/06/16/report-nearly-billion-gulf-between-two-leading-school-funding-bills/KWpejZnLc8QMkhBy8ewJbI/story.html

Many questions come to mind about either bill. First, why must the State be the focus of funds for local schools ? If said funds are needed as urgently as the Promise Act advocates say, can’t they seek Proposition 2 1/2 overrides in the towns or cities thus needy ? I am especially unmoved by the Boston situation. Why does a City experiencing a long and propitious economic boom need State school funds at all ? The City’s tax valuation has doubled in the past ten years, yet the school budget has, in that time, increased only by 40 percent. Clearly a 2 1/2 override initiative is in order, so why isn’t one being — hasn’t one yet been — proposed ? And if many 2 1/2 overrides fail because taxpayers don’t see the need, why should the legislature arrogate to legislate school matters — which are locally governed by locally-chosen bodies mostly elected that localities have voted against ? Returning to the Boston question, I find it completely out of order for a City as real estate prosperous as Boston to ask for more State aid, when Massachusetts has so many cities that aren’t prospering at all and which badly need all the funds they can get. Nor am I moved by the argument that Boston educates so many students whose schooling costs much more than the average : English language learners, special need kids, kids with health issues. If a City as booming as Boston can’t meet these costs, we’re in serious incompetence mode.

But back now to the two funding bills. I quote now from the Globe article : “In Boston, where much of the city’s school funding gets diverted to charter schools, aid would jump from $220 million this year to $323.9 million in seven years under the Promise Act, compared to $232.6 million in Baker’s proposal, essentially the same increase the city would receive if the Legislature doesn’t overhaul the funding formula…” 

The $ 91.3 million dollar difference is almost precisely the $ 96,000,000 that Boston’s FY 2020 schools budget allocates for transportation. Most of that transport is required by the desegregation busing order entered 45 years ago by Federal Judge Arthur Garrity. This order should be terminated. No part of the City is segregated today, as many parts were in 1974. Today, most Boston neighborhoods are models of diversity. So why not bring back community schools ? Activists talk much these days about community — rightly so — but you can’t have true community without community schools. No institution binds neighbors together as solidly as they. With community schools, you also get PTAs, which enable parent-student-teacher after-hours interaction; and nothing improves school performance as effectively as teacher-student-parent interaction.

Campaigning door to door with a Council candidate in District Five, hardly a night of it goes by that we do not hear, from voters at the door, a desire for community schooling. Almost every mother we listen to, of school age children, is thinking of moving out because they don’t want their kids transported all over the place (and by a lottery assignment system that adds another layer of absurdity). Yet not a word of this issue is to be found in either of the two funding bills before the legislature.

The other schools issue that we hear at the door is the school system’s failure, even after 30 years of Federal grant availability, to render its utility usage energy-efficient. We hear of classrooms that are too hot in winter, too cold in summer. In this regard, the FY 2020 schools budget allocates $ 42,369,098 to “Property Services.” How much of that is attributable to wasted heating ort air conditioning ? Probably not a little. Moreover, the system maintains buildings to serve 92,000 students, yet only about 55,000 attend. Why can’t the City close under-attended school facilities and end their “services” altogether ? One would think that those who advocate dramatic increases to the schools budget would be demanding this sort of saving. (You can read the FY 2020 budget here : https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzzLbJ_lC7U2SDB1N0RhUmNMN3A0RWhBemg0RUlzbzlKbmJ3/view )

Again, not a word of this is to be found in either the two funding bills or in the Globe article.

Between the legislating going on on  Beacon Hill and the actual concerns of actual voters, there seems total disconnect. One would think that in a democracy, the concerns of actual voters would come first or at all; yet in schools matters, such concerns seem blocked. Parents of school age have been moving out of District Five, to the suburbs in search of better schools responsive to parents since the 1980s : yet in that time nothing has been done to relieve this exodus. The voters just don’t seem to matter.

This is why I protest as I am now doing and will continue to do until the legislators dealing with schools priorities finally listen.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

A THIRD TERM FOR CHARLIE BAKER ?

 

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^ aligning openly and purposefully with City Democrats : Governor Baker at Boston’s pride flag raising

 

The header is framed as a question because I’m not sure that he really does mean to seek an unprecedented third term as our state’s Governor. If he DOES mean it, however, significant reasons support his doing this. The Boston Globe article that appeared this morning quotes Baker thus : ““I really want to fight for this approach to governing that’s based on the idea there is such a thing as a bipartisan, pragmatic approach to governing,’’

There was more: Baker said he and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito will be heavy presences on the campaign trail in this year’s municipal elections across the state. They plan to back candidates, including Democrats, most of them incumbents, running for mayor.

“I am going to make sure that I and the lieutenant governor support and help incumbents this year on both sides of the partisan aisle who have helped us and we will also work for folks running for office in 2020.”

Let these two quotes sink in for a minute…

In effect, Baker has become an independent in all but name. To hear a Governor say this is new, but the fact is not. Since 1990, when our state elected Bill Weld as Governor, our Governors have, with the exception of Deval Patrick’s two terms, all been centrist Republicans who have, in effect, governed in partnership with the legislative leadership, non-partisan in policy, bipartisan in action. That said, Baker, by committing to campaign for Massachusetts Mayors who are enrolled Democrats, is going beyond what even he has yet done. Until now, he has always campaigned for only Republicans. Now, by aligning himself on campaign turf with Democratic Mayors, he is setting a level of bipartisan example quite bold for any Governor, much less one as cautious as Baker.

Think also of the context. Nationally, America is divided viciously along party lines. If you’re in a party, you are forced to be in that party and only in that party– the other party is the enemy. Baker told the Globe this : “bipartisan interactions at the State House stand in distinct contrast to what is going on around the country.’’

Baker has avoided critiquing Mr. Trump directly, but from Day One of Mr. Trump’s election, baker has acted in specific contrast to the Trump method; and in his first State of the State speech, he made that explicit :”I represent Massachusetts to Washington,not Washington to Massachusetts.” Baker has, by example, governed the opposite way to Mr. Trump, and by doing so, he has also helped to keep Massachusetts politics free of the partisan zealotry that has made useful Federal governance all but impossible. The move that Baker is now contemplating, and the basis that he has set it to, raise his anti-Trump example to a next level.

As the Globe notes, Baker has also separated his political operation from the state Republican party. The party has its offices on Merrimac Street in Downtown Boston; Baker’s operation uses offices on West Street, two miles away. Nor is Baker making any secret of his opposition to the ultra-conservative new regime at Massachusetts GOP headquarters : “Baker acknowledged he will again wade into the elections for the 80 members of the GOP state committee when Republican presidential primary voters go to the polls next winter,” wrote the Globe reporter.

The same report notes that Baker, by not having control of the state party, lost the cash-raising advantages that control of it accorded him. Yet his commitment to oust the current regime seems just as motivated by policy as b y money. Baker has no problem raising vast sums, whether he controls “Merrimac Street” or not. Policy, however, is another matter. The present right-wing rejectionism being voiced by present GOP leadership rejects almost everything that baker’s politics embrace.This is not without consequences. Canvassing voters door to door, I have found that registered Republicans are far more likely to dislike Baker than are unenrolleds and Democrats.

In this context, Baker’s commitment to campaign for Democratic mayors –and to govern openly in partnership with the legislature’s Democratic leadership — practically gives the finger to the folks at Merrimac Street and those who endorse them. One can almost hear what baker will never say, “You don’t like the initiatives I’m working on ? Don’t like that I’m doing them with Democrats ? Tough ! I have a state to govern, a state to reform, a new era to prepare us for!”

Perhaps in the end he will turn the reins to Lieutenant Governor Polito and take his two terms as the nation’s best-liked Governor home to Swampscott. That’s still the more likely outcome. But if he does decide top seek a third term, he will represent the deepest political desire of the overwhelming majority of voters : let us get things done, Democrats and Republicans together, and stop the insanity !” Don’t bet against it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

REFORMING BOSTON’s PUBLIC SCHOOLS

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^ a Roslindale parent has a schools decision to make. Will the system allow her the best decision, or not ?

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Is there anything in the new contract agreement fore Boston school teachers that moves the system toward reform ? Not really. Teachers get a two percent pay raise ? Nice, but teacher pay is not a reform item. The system will hire 22 new full time school nurses, and another 22 aides will also be hired : these will be good news for parents of children in need of mental health monitoring and for the kids, too. Still at issue is the request, made by some, that classes for English language learners be staffed by two teachers each.

Yet these small adjustments do not equal school reform. The so-called achievement gap — the disparity between kids of various skin colors and national origins wit.h respect to test results and graduation rates — will likely remain. Nor does the new teacher contract alter, in the slightest, the two fundamental misdirections impacting Boston’s public schools : first, the school committee is appointed by the people; and second, that kids are still being transported all over the city, per school assignment lotteries established under a Federal Court desegregation order issued 45 years ago.

There is much talk about “the community” in various Boston neighborhoods these days, but you cannot have community without community schools. Community schools bring the kids of a community together. They encourage parent-teacher involvement. The Federal Court order destroyed the PTAs that governed Boston schools, that monitored their excellence and required teachers to not just teach their hours and go home. The old PTAs ensured that the local school community would continue after the school day and during school vacations. This was community  for real. The school community powerfully motivated parents to stay in the community. Just the opposite is the case today for parents seeking neighborhood schools. If you’re not lucky enough to get your kid into Boston Latin School or the Latin Academy, and you are not chosen by the charter school lottery, you will almost certainly move to the suburbs, or strongly consider doing it. (The exception that parents make for the Latin and charter schools results from parents’ confidence that at those schools  their kids will be rigorously well educated, diligently enough that they’ll trade  community for excellence. Correctly or not, parents have no such confidence in Boston’s standard public schools despite the City’s  $ 1,270,000,000 FY 2020 schools allocation.)

I think that parents are right to opine that community schools are the only workable alternative for kids who do not get into the Latin or charter schools. Community, at least, assures that the standard school — funded by fully one third of the entire annual City budget — will not settle for a default minimum, or tolerate teacher failure — the new contract “makes it easier” for teachers unassigned because no school will have them to work their way back to being hired. Community PTAs might well be what they once were, a bulwark of teacher diligence.

It is certainly time to move beyond the 1974 Federal Court order. The City’s neighbor hoods are no longer racially segregated. Residential diversity isn’t uniform, but there no more neighborhoods that are 99 percent Caucasian — nor 99 percent people of color. Door knocking in District Five this year, getting past the Federal Court order — and the $ 99,000,000 that it costs to transport kids — is by far the most frequent schools demand that voters make. It is time to do it; to eliminate the assignment lottery and recreate community school districts.

Taking this step would make an even stronger statement of reform if it were accompanied by City charter change re-establishing an elected school committee. I have proposed an elected  committee according to a district election system which gives five  committee seats to the current large assignment district, four seats to the next largest, and three committee seats to the small district. The Superintendent would then be the 13th member, or else the Mayor ex officio. Granted, that an elected school committee would bring political considerations into the mix : but school issues ought to be a major subject of politics and election. The $ 1,270,000,000 budget requires direct citizen involvement, and sol do major school decisions : curriculum, staffing, administrative autonomy for each school. The Mayor, who appoints the present committee, is chargeable, but he is equally charged on every other major City administrative matter. It is almost impossible to make his re-election depend upon his schools decisions, nor is it a best practice to do so. Best is to elect school officers whose focus is solely schools.

It is time to reform our public schools.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere