CAN BOSTON’S SCHOOL COMMITTEE BE MADE TO WORK ?

distraction

This week, Boston’s School Committee made the news again — and not in a good way. Two members of the all-appointed Committee were caught out exchanging racially charged messages: complaining about “West Roxbury white-ies.”

Condemnation came swiftly, from every quarter, as it had to be. Why is a schools person, of all perps, engaging in racial invective ? One expects educated people to be smarter than that, more worldly, more accustomed to politicking among all sorts of folks in all kinds of neighborhoods. So much for expectations !

As I see it, however, the problem here isn’t just personal ignorance where awareness ought to be. It’s that an all-appointed School Committee just doesn’t do the job.

We all know this is so. I have written a couple of times before on this issue, favoring an elected school committee because the voting public should be choosing who sits on the committee that proposes and operates a budget taking up one full third of Boston’s entire City expenditures.

Yes, the appointee answer to the Mayor, who is elected by Boston’s voters. But no, it isn’t really feasible to hold the Mayor accountable separately for his or her school decisions. We elect Mayors upon many issues. Too often the schools matters het lost in the pack or are overlooked altogether when we choose a Mayor. An elected School Committee is the right device for submitting schools accountability to the voters.

Mayor candidate Annissa Essaibi George suggests a hybrid committee : some elected, some appointed by the Mayor. I’m not sure that’ll work as well as an entirely elected committee, but as long as the voters elect a majority of committee members, the accountability level is high enough.

We’ve had an elected school committee before. Five at large until 1981, nine by District from 1981 until 1993. Why not again ? My own proposal is that elected school committee members be elected from the present school seating assignment districts : four from the largest district, three from the middle sized district, and two from the small district. Add two members appointed by the Mayor, and you have an eleven-member committee that voters can judge on school issues alone.

I would doubt that elected members would ever be caught blurting dumb racial slurs. Responsibility to the voters entails some degree of self-awareness and a high degree of self-discipline. You can think all the ugliness you like, but if ops, keep it to yourself is a wise axiom. One would like to think, that committee members who have to face the voters every two years would live up to this minimum of public good manners.

Boston’s public schools have enough to do without having its board of directors nicked by unnecessary controversy. There’s a ton of spending waste (the “transportation” account in particular), unsupportable allocations,. long neglected maintenance and facility upgrades, anomalies in the teachers’ contract, poor school lunch administration, lax financial oversight, and a ton of happy talk about “every child, not only those in the exam schools, deserves an excellent education” with no measure of happy follow-up. Can we ever get to administering and upgrading the schools serving 54,000 kids, or can’t we ? CAN WE AT LEAST TRY ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere