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A lack of transparency at BPS

Ruby Reyes

With each superintendent and mayor comes the fabricated commitments of “transparency,” “community engagement” and “equity.” As we approach Superintendent Skipper’s eighth month on the job and only three short months from the end of the school year, BPS families have continued to wait for quality BPS leadership, visionary goals and transparency. Skipper is failing to achieve the changes that BPS families continue to desperately need. 

BPS parent groups have been asking for better communication and authentic community engagement that thoughtfully incorporates parents, students and educators. Claiming a commitment to family engagement, BPS parents found a calendar listing for “Conversations with Mary.” Notifications had not been sent to district parent groups or through the “BPS weekly update,” which has not gone out since December 2022. Parent groups shared it with their school networks, only for the meeting to be abruptly canceled minutes before its flopped launch.

In the budget process, the Boston Education Justice Alliance (BEJA) urged for more detail and transparency. The budget process became an embarrassing example of Central Office and School Committee dysfunction at the March 22 School Committee vote. Skipper asked her legal advisor for clarity on what would happen if the School Committee rejected her budget that lacked details and explanations requested for by School Committee members. When the legal advisor was unable to provide answers, mayorally appointed School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson urged School Committee members to just take a vote. Meanwhile, mayorally appointed member [Brandon] Cardet-Hernandez summed up the hypocrisy by saying, “We’re having this conversation about what our votes mean, and we don’t know and we won’t know.”

Ultimately, the School Committee voted to pass the budget with Michael O’Neill making the excuse that it was Skipper’s first budget. The BPS budget should not be about covering up Skipper’s failures. The budget process is a place where resources can be distributed to areas, schools, and students with the most need as a real commitment to equity.

With transportation, families and advocates have been pushing for a contract with Lyft as an option when BPS cannot get students to school. The Lyft contract was supposed to be completed by Thanksgiving, and even with major transportation issues persisting, Mayor Wu and Superintendent Skipper found time to take pictures in February with the new electric school buses. Wu and Skipper greenwash their legacy at the expense of getting BPS students to school in the present.

Skipper added more staff to Central Office, rather than directing support to positions that would make a huge impact in schools, such as a full-time reading specialist at every school or increasing the Restorative Justice Department to at least 20 staff. For teachers, even getting their negotiated contract pay increases required testimony at the School Committee to show the gravity of the situation.

Rather than increasing the number of Central Office administrators, there should be more of an effort to find highly qualified staff through national searches and search committees with parents and community members. Skipper shared her revised organizational chart in March 2022, putting more distance between herself and Central Office staff while also filling positions with her Somerville connections, reminiscent of Boston’s historical cronyism of political appointments. Central Office continues to need visionary candidates with a proven track record of success.

Even more disturbing though, is that when parents signed up to give public testimony at the School Committee on March 22, some of those parents received calls from BPS administrators asking what they were going to give testimony about. BPS families should not have been pressured about their testimony in any way. The other implications are that principals and administrators are being held responsible for what parents say in their testimony, which further feeds the already decaying culture of fear rather than the “supported team” Skipper claims to be fostering. As we close on Skipper’s first year, the lack of transparency has failed to engage parents and school communities.

Skipper highlighted her in-depth experience with BPS in her interview, having spent 15 years in the district. She seems to have inherited problems she contributed to before leaving. As with the mayors and superintendents before her, and despite a lengthy list of commitments in words only, the fate of BPS students is still not a political priority.

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