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Boston needs an elected school committee

Ruby Reyes

In October 2020, former Boston School Committee Chair Michael Loconto made racially charged comments about parents. He sparked a trend of what seems like episodes of a reality show, further highlighting the need for a fully elected school committee that is accountable to Boston Public School families and educators. In the current appointed structure, members are accountable only to the mayor; they do not advocate for school communities equitably, and remain disconnected from the needs of families and educators.

  In March 2021, Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) representative Khymani James resigned on the basis of students being controlled by administrators. James noted the ongoing BSAC work to push for the student position to have a vote and stipend. James and other BSAC students resigned and prompted an investigation into former Youth on Board Executive Director Jenny Sazama and her use of Re-evaluation Counseling on students.

Following Loconto’s public apology and resignation, the Boston Globe published a series of text messages between members. Additional text messages were later released that would prompt the recent resignations of Dr. Lorna Rivera and Alex Oliver-Dávila.

While all of this was going on, School Committee members would start meetings apologizing for the latest debacle, then move on with business as usual. Boston remains the only place left in Massachusetts with an appointed school committee, leaving major education decisions to a group of people accountable to only the mayor. Prior to the ongoing series of resignations and apologies, the School Committee has had a history of rubber-stamping decisions, leaving many school communities without advocacy. 

Rivera was the only show of dissent amongst the members. Her line in the sand began when she voted against the decision to gift the McCormack’s green fields to the Dorchester Boys & Girls Club.

After the attempted closure of the McCormack in October 2019, the entire school community worked to design a merger with Boston Community Leadership Academy (BCLA) in order to stay open. In August 2020, the green space was given away, despite community outcry. Through all of this, the McCormack and BCLA communities were promised a renovated school, as a BuildBPS afterthought. 

BPS Chief Financial Officer Nate Kuder presented a reformed BuildBPS plan at a May 2021 School Committee meeting, claiming there would be no more secrecy, and a shift away from what he called “CloseBPS.”  However, at the most recent School Committee meeting, BCLA students shared their bait-and-switch experience of promised renovations that were significantly scaled back. The McCormack and BCLA school communities are majority Black and Latino. 

Less than two weeks later, Kuder held a meeting for Charlestown parents about the Edwards Middle School building that was promised as temporary swing space to the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, also made up mostly of Black and Latino students. Horace Mann parents were not invited, but showed up anyway and brought their own sign-language interpreters because BPS had not provided them. Kuder ended the meeting by claiming he had a plan for the Horace Mann but did not share it, an about-face from his previous declaration of transparency.

School Committee members did not even acknowledge the testimony of BCLA students and have remained silent because they have no constituents to respond to. The public outcry of BCLA and the Horace Mann communities continue to go unaddressed.

In addition to ignoring public testimony, School Committee members have shown questionable ethical boundaries. The most recent appointment, Ernani DeAraujo, sits on the Boston Latin School Association trustee board. Rather than recusing himself from the Exam School Task Force discussion, DeAraujo advocated for the long time BLS faculty. This clear conflict of interest muddled his advocacy for all schools.

The School Committee meeting finished by sharing Superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius’ performance review. Receiving an overall score of “proficient,” what was most telling was the score of “exemplary” for family and community engagement. Throughout the pandemic, families and school communities have shared their ongoing frustration about Central Office silence. Clearly, there is a complete disconnect between School Committee members and the experience of school communities.

As communities are giving input on federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds) dollars and being told more empty rhetoric of an “antiracist BPS,” there is funding to close opportunity gaps and actually move towards equity. For those afraid that an elected School Committee would give out political favors, the appointed committee does that anyway—only the favors are for and on behalf of the mayor.

Ruby Reyes is director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance (BEJA).