Local Officials Rail Against Possible Takeover of Boston Schools
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Officials in Boston passionately defended their schools on Tuesday as the state board of education considered how to respond to a scathing audit of the district, which revealed deep-rooted dysfunction.
Mayor Michelle Wu cautioned against the most drastic option, a state takeover, stating that it would be counterproductive at a time when she is actively working to improve district management. One example of her efforts is the tentative agreement reached with the Boston school bus driver’s union to reform the school transportation system, which has consistently been criticized for its shortcomings.
During the state board meeting on Tuesday, Wu emphasized that there is no one better equipped to accelerate Boston’s progress than the Boston Public Schools community.
Numerous politicians, educators, and parents expressed their opposition to a takeover and argued that Boston should be given the opportunity to resolve its academic and organizational challenges. Their comments followed the release of a comprehensive report the previous day, which highlighted systemic issues within the district and called for immediate action to support its approximately 46,000 students.
Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley refrained from expressing his stance on a takeover, but he acknowledged that the audit’s findings were disheartening. He emphasized the need for structural improvements in several critical areas, including safety, transportation, special education, English language learners, data transparency, and facilities.
Riley commented on the myriad of problems within the district, attributing many of them to an excessively bureaucratic central office that often fails to carry out even the most basic functions.
According to state law, an audit like this must be conducted before a takeover, known as receivership, can occur. The investigation revealed an office within the district plagued by high turnover rates, inadequate support for English language learners and students with special needs, and a consistent pattern of inaccurate or misleading data reporting regarding graduation rates, bus routes, and facility renovations.
Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat and gubernatorial candidate, addressed the board as a former teacher and current parent of a public school student. She drew attention to the challenges experienced during previous receiverships attempted in other Massachusetts cities.
Chang-Diaz implored the board members to continue working in partnership with Boston to accelerate improvements for students within the district, rather than eroding parental involvement and local democratic processes through receivership. She highlighted the presence of new leadership in the mayor’s office and the upcoming appointment of a new superintendent, emphasizing that they deserve an opportunity to address the issues at hand.
Now that the audit report has been made public, Mayor Wu will determine the next course of action. She has already met with Commissioner Riley and Governor Charlie Baker to explore potential collaboration between Boston Public Schools and the state, which could initiate necessary reforms without resorting to full receivership. Riley expressed hope that the mayor would provide a "statement of assurances" within approximately a week, outlining the need for improvements in key areas such as transportation and data reporting.
Matt Hills, a director at a private equity firm and the only board member who has openly supported receivership, urged for a prompt decision to be made. He suggested that if a higher power were superintendent, even they would require receivership to be effective in addressing the district’s challenges.
His statement elicited murmurs of anger from the audience, but Hills continued to emphasize the urgency of taking action and asked when enough will be enough.
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