The City Council voted overwhelmingly today to fight to keep local control of BPS in the face of possible state receivership, saying a new mayor and a new superintendent deserve a chance to finally bring the sort of change BPS needs and that the last thing Boston - where voters strongly supported an elected school committee in the fall election - needs is an outside commissar screwing things up even more.
The council voted 10-1 for a resolution to oppose a state takeover. Councilor Frank Baker (Dorchester) cast the lone no vote. City Councilor Michael Flaherty (at large) announced before the vote that he could not vote for the resolution, then left the chambers before the vote. Councilor Brian Worrell (Dorchester) did not attend the council meeting at all.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), which is considering making Boston its fourth school system in receivership, has a "miserable track record" in turning schools around, Councilor Julia Mejia, who sponsored the resolution, said. The three communities with schools run by the state - Lawrence, Holyoke and Southbridge - all remain among the state's worst performing districts and have shown little signs of permanent improvement, she said. She said fixing BPS will take work by parents, teachers and administrators, something she said they would be locked out of by a state appointed receiver.
Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune (at large), said the one Boston school already in state receivership - the Dever - "has almost nothing to show for that."
Councilor Ricardo Arroyo (Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale) said Boston doesn't need somebody from away making decisions by fiat that affect Boston families. He said all the receivership talk is now hanging over the city even as it looks for a new superintendent to replace
Flaherty said he remains a strong supporter of BPS but that he could not vote for the resolution because it might be seen as a vote of confidence in BPS central administration, which he said is entirely to blame for everything that is wrong - and possibly even illegal - about the school system today. He said central administration has screwed up student transportation, has failed to ensure that English-learning and special-education students get the resources they need, is overseeing schools that aren't safe and has failed to even develop a tracking system to monitor how it responds to parent requests.
He said that perhaps BPS needs "targeted partnership" with state or even federal officials to help with specific programs and warned that if nothing is done, Boston could be facing action by the Justice Department.
In 20 years on the Council, "I've never seen it this bad," he said.
Baker was even harsher in his criticism of BPS, and fellow councilors, whom he accused of running one-sided hearings at which DESE wasn't even given a chance to explain the issues it's concerned about, in a district that is unsafe, with kids who can't read and with graduation rates that suck.
"Let's not have the echo chamber that we're used to," he said. "Let's get some opposing views." He said he was not calling for a state takeover but that he doesn't understand how certain councilors can call for defunding police and yet continue to throw more money at a shrinking system.
Hogwash, Councilor Kendra Lara (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury), said, referring to what she called "political theater from my colleagues." DESE was invited to a council committee hearing on receivership last month, but that it refused to send anybody, which she said was too bad because she was looking forward to hearing DESE explain why it has apparently failed to fulfill its side of a 2020 "memorandum of understanding" with BPS on how to deal with certain problem areas, and why DESE decided to conduct a detailed review that could lead to receivership earlier than it had earlier agreed to.
She said she opposes the idea of putting schools into state receivership, which she called "a failed model," based on the lack of success in the three communities where it's been done and "a roll of the dice" for school families and "an affront to the city of Boston" and "a slap in the face" of parents.
Councilor Erin Murphy (at large), herself a BPS student, parent and until recently, teacher, voted for the resolution, but said the whole BPS situation is "devastating," that BPS remains mired in severe problems "year after year, decade after decade," despite some amazing things going on in schools.
"I am standing on the side of the children," she said. "We have failed them. and it breaks my heart."
Councilor Kenzie Bok (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill), acknowledged the problems BPS faces. "It is true we are facing deep challenges in BPS." But fixing its problems will take "deep, collaborative partnership work," not edicts from a state-appointed school czar.
Mejia, herself a BPS graduate and parent, rose again before the vote to say that fixing Boston schools will take hard work across city government. Referring to Flaherty's comment about how he's never seen BPS in such sad shape, she said she includes the City Council in that and asked where Flaherty was for all those years the schools were not performing as well as they could. "In many ways, the council has failed the Boston Public Schools as well," she said.