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Unequal funds, unequal opportunity

Ruby Reyes

What have Boston Public School students gotten for the $1 billion commitment for BuildBPS? The 10-year BuildBPS facilities master plan, released in 2017, was supposed to be Mayor Walsh’s investment in new schools, repair of aging facilities and creation of 21st-century classrooms. But what have we gotten?

The BuildBPS Stakeholders Coalition recently released a survey to assess basic school infrastructure such as facilities, programs and staff. It was answered by a total of 189 parents, students and educators and included questions like, does your school have a library? … a librarian? … are they funded by BPS or an outside source? The survey found that across the board, most schools were missing basic things.

When the BuildBPS plan was first released, BuildBPS Stakeholders Coalition asked for a moratorium on school closures and major facilities decisions until an equity analysis of the impact on Black and Latino communities was completed. We requested missing information including swing space, financial reports, estimated costs for rebuilds, relocations, maintenance, program expansions and educational plans for proposed school reconfigurations. The current plan does not include any of these specifics.

If BuildBPS is meant to provide quality facilities and programs to all students, it clearly hasn’t met this goal, according to our survey. The Stakeholders survey has shown that more than a third of schools don’t have a functioning library, roughly 55% of students in K–8 and middle schools don’t have a science lab and about 8% percent of students in middle and K-8 schools don’t have an art teacher.

In a city where decisions are made behind closed doors, BuildBPS is an example of institutional racism. Decisions continue to be made without analysis of who is harmed, community input or even common-sense thinking about the impact or timeline of repairs and closures. Before Superintendent Cassellius started, the decision to close all middle schools was made without community input, a thorough understanding of feeder patterns or even the implications on travel. Two years later, Superintendent Cassellius has not provided that information. Black and Latino communities often find that decisions have been made for them by city and school officials, without being consulted or actually listened to.

The school reconfiguration process for BuildBPS includes targeting middle schools, district high schools and alternative education programs that are made up of a disproportionately higher number of Black and Latino students, in order to close and “reconfigure” these schools. Most of these schools have experienced deep budget cuts year after year and are assigned a disproportionate number of English language learners and students with disabilities. This process conveniently has not touched the exam schools.

Some facilities that require immediate attention and enroll primarily students of color are not included in the 10-year plan. These include Madison Park Voc/Tech, the only vocational school in the city; the Jackson/Mann; the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; and the McKinley Schools, comprising three sites that serve a special population of students with disabilities.

The BuildBPS Stakeholders group reiterates our request for an equity analysis of the BuildBPS plan, which we requested three years ago, a small step towards Dr. Cassellius’ commitment to anti-racism. The results of the Stakeholders survey only scratch the surface of identifying school needs and show that BPS is far from a “quality guarantee,” and BuildBPS is far from getting us there.

Two years into her tenure, Cassellius and the mayor’s appointed School Committee have remained largely silent on these requests. Silence may be golden, but it’s not anti-racist. As with all Central Office presentations that start by touting “transparency” and “accountability,” we continue to see much of the same top-down, one-off decision making in lieu of a comprehensive master facilities plan with benchmarked projects, cost estimates and an accompanying timeline. These continued inequities baked into BuildBPS will result in even larger achievement and opportunity gaps post-COVID. The BuildBPS plan needs to provide for a quality education for all children and not perpetuate the inequities that are already built into the system.

Ruby Reyes is director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance.

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